Thoughts and observations from Tech’s 65-62 loss at Notre Dame Wednesday night. Game story here.
1. For a Georgia Tech fan, there were things to like in Wednesday night’s game against Notre Dame. The Yellow Jackets turned the ball over just six times, tying their season low set in the season opener. They recorded assists on 16 of their 22 baskets. They shot 8-for-11 from the free-throw line. They only sent the Fighting Irish to the line eight times. They were 10-for-20 from 3-point range. Forward Robert Carter had his best game since returning from a torn meniscus.
“We didn’t make every shot, but we knocked down some big-time shots towards the end of the game,” forward Marcus Georges-Hunt said. “I felt like we played pretty good.”
However, the result, of course, was wanting. The 65-62 loss was the third straight for Tech and the 15th overall against 13 wins. Particularly as was the case in the loss to N.C. State and also in the first loss to Clemson, the Jackets came up a play or two short. The Jackets were 0-3 in those games and could well have been 3-0.
There were so many plays that could have turned things. Early in the second half, guard Corey Heyward couldn’t get a handle on a loose ball. Notre Dame did, and guard Eric Atkins did and knocked down a 3-pointer to push a two-point lead to five.
As Notre Dame built its advantage to nine points, forward Kammeon Holsey turned the ball over on fairly avoidable plays on back-to-back possessions. Center Daniel Miller made one of two free throws with 6:34 to go when two free throws would have cut the lead to two points. Down 56-55, Tech had three opportunities on one possession to take the lead – two missed shots, both which Tech rebounded, and then a turnover – but didn’t.
Given his team’s tight margin of error, “every miss seems like you just missed four shots instead of one,” coach Brian Gregory said.
The end-game killers were Pat Connaughton’s drive with the shot clock running out at the 3:12 mark that made the score 60-56, and then Carter’s not being able to latch onto a rebound that the Irish claimed in the final minute. (“I was about to get it and I kind of fell,” Carter said) When Notre Dame recovered the rebound to extend the possession, instead of being down one with 30 seconds left with the ball, Tech had to foul, which put them down three with 23.8 seconds left.
“Those two plays, if you make those two plays, then it’s different,” Gregory said. “You’ve got to learn how to make those and you’ve got to finish those off.”
2. For the sake of argument, let’s say Tech wins those three (N.C State, Clemson, Notre Dame). Instead of being 13-15 overall and 4-11 in the ACC, they would be 16-12 and 7-10, certainly in position to get into the NIT, which would be a worthy accomplishment for a team that has endured its share of injuries. This is, though, the lament of a losing team.
3. Despite shooting 5-for-20 from 3-point range, Notre Dame still shot 46.6 percent, which is way too much for Tech to allow. The Irish were able to handle Tech’s zone defense and besides Sherman’s success, point guard Eric Atkins hit from inside and outside. Notre Dame’s shooting rate was its highest in the past nine games aside from its 50.9 percent against Boston College, which is last in the league in field-goal percentage defense.
“They’re curling off those screens and getting the ball,” Gregory said. “Driving the ball to the basket.”
Down 22-11, the Irish scored on 10 of the next 11 possessions to take the lead going into halftime. Tech never led again. That inability to expand or protect a lead was obviously damaging, and something the Jackets have been through previously.
Said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, “What helped was we changed defenses and played some zone, and that got us some transition stuff. … It got them out of the rhythm they were in, and we were able to get out and run.”
4. A most forgettable night for Trae Golden. He was 0-for-10 for no points and no rebounds in 31 minutes. It was by far the most shots he’d taken in a game without a make in his career and the most minutes he has logged in a game without scoring. Golden tried going to the basket to score, both in the half-court and in transition and it did not work well at all. The lingering groin injury, it would appear, was a considerable factor.
Said coach Brian Gregory, “I don’t think you’re going to see him do that as much as we did earlier.”
Golden was coming off a 17-point game on 6-for-13 shooting, so it’s not as though he’s not capable of playing with the injury. He was 4-for-9 from 3-point range against Clemson, compared to 0-for-5 Wednesday night. As Gregory had said Monday, Golden may be better off focusing his contributions from the perimeter and not driving as much.
5. Likewise, a rough game for center Daniel Miller. Notre Dame center Garrick Sherman took revenge for a mediocre performance against Miller in Atlanta – 6-for-18 for 13 points – by repeatedly going after him in the post. Sherman was 10-for-15 for 21 points. Gregory chose to let Miller defend Sherman by himself with no help, and that did not prove particularly effective. Sherman, who is playing through a finger injury that has limited his effectiveness, was on his game Wednesday.
“I didn’t have a double, which was nice, so I actually had some space,” Sherman said.
Miller was 2-for-7 for six points with eight rebounds.
6. Off the bench, guard Chris Bolden and forward Quinton Stephens made big contributions. Bolden was 3-for-3 from 3-point range for nine points with three rebounds, one of which was an offensive rebound that kept the final possession alive. Stephens made two of three 3-pointers and also had three rebounds. They helped offset Golden’s off game. It would have been nice to see another play run for Bolden to see if he could keep up his streak. All three of his baskets were in the second half.
7. Forward Robert Carter took missing the pair of 3-point tries in the final possession pretty hard.
“Those are shots I’ve got to hit,” he said. “Those are plays I’ve got to make to help this team win.”
Also: “It just makes you work harder. I’m going to get back to the gym, get some shots, work on it. Next time I get the opportunity, hopefully it’ll go the other way.”
Carter played his best game since coming back. He was in another gear against Notre Dame – 8-for-16 from the field, 3-for-6 from 3-point range, for 19 points, 10 rebounds.
8. If the season ended today, Tech would be the No. 13 seed in the ACC tournament and would play Miami, the No. 12 seed, in a Wednesday first-round game. (The first game of the day, no less.) If the Jackets were to beat the Hurricanes, they would play No. 5 seed Pitt Thursday. And, in the event they won again, the Jackets would play North Carolina, the No. 4 seed, on Friday. Having played two games in two days while the Tar Heels would not have played yet, I would not like Tech’s chances.
9. It was brutally cold in South Bend. I think it was 11 degrees when the game started. I’m not sure how I grew up in that weather.