Grayson Allen, Wendell Carter Jr. fend off late surge by the Yellow Jackets
By D’Mitri Chin
Despite a sold-out arena on Sunday in the McCamish Pavillion, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-14, 4-8) were outlasted by the Duke Blue Devils (20-5, 8-4) 80-69. It’s worth noting that both teams dealt with injuries, both before the game starting and during the game. Marvin Bagley was in street clothes before tip-off due to a mild knee sprain. For the Yellow Jackets, starting point guard Jose Alvarado suffered a dislocated left elbow with 8:14 remaining in the first half. Head coach Josh Pastner said that it is a “high probability” the freshman guard’s season is over.
While the Yellow Jackets indeed could have been more competitive with Alverado on the court, Pastner’s team showed great effort in the second half. Unfortunately, his team failed to produce in many facets of the game.
A lackluster first half
The Yellow Jackets had a prime opportunity to upset the Blue Devils with Bagley sidelined and an electric, sold-out crowd ready to lift the roof off of McCamish Pavilion with their exuberant voices and a wave of “GoTech, go!” Instead, Georgia Tech failed to succumb to the pressure of knocking off a Duke team that entered play Sunday night ranked No. nine in the country — and it started with a lack of energy and careless mistakes.
In the first half, the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over seven times and allowed 10 points off those mistakes. The only bright spot in that half was Josh Okogie, who had 14 of his 29 points during that time. Outside of Okogie, the Yellow Jackets sputtered against Duke’s 2-3-zone defense. Ben Lammers had a terrible night against defending and scoring against opposing big men Wendell Carter Jr. (19 points and 10 rebounds) and Marques Bolden (eight points and six rebounds). Lammers finished the game with eight points on 4-8 shooting, and to his defense, he is still dealing with nagging injuries.
“Bless his heart; the guy is fighting through being banged up. He’s practicing every day, now that he’s been able to practice, and he just fights through it. He just hasn’t been the same since the injury, unfortunately. … First play of the game, we tried to get it to him just to get him going, and we want Ben to be aggressive. And I told him, ‘Be as aggressive as you can and don’t think about it, don’t over-analyze it. If you’re open, shoot it. If you miss 20, shoot 21, we just need you to play with great confidence and energy.'”
Tech finished the first half shooting 28 percent from the floor.
Duke formed a new big three against Tech
Grayson Allen (29 points), Carter Jr. and, surprise, Gary Trent Jr (15 points) had a field day against the Yellow Jackets. It’s also worth noting that Carter Jr. had his way with any defender Pastner sent his way. He played like a traditional big man at the collegiate, or the professional level should play by crashing the glass and scoring in a variety of ways in the low-block area. He was responsible for scoring over 50 percent of Duke’s points in the paint (38).
I was proud of Wendell [Carter]. He had to shoulder a little bit more with 19 [points], and 10 [rebounds],” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Allen proved to be the biggest beneficiary of Bagley’s absence, in the sense that he was able to prove he could carry this Duke team if needed. Tech was able to challenge the Blue Devils in the latter part of the second half, and if it were not for Allen’s poise in clutch situations, the free-throw line, in particular, Duke could have very well allowed this game to slip between their hands.
“I thought Grayson [Allen] came through, especially on the free-throw line.”
The future is brighter than the present
Okogie, being Georgia Tech’s most coveted player, is only a sophomore. However, he has the skill set to enter the draft earlier than expected possibly. Having said that, Pastner was forced to look at what the future held when Alvarado left the game in the first half, and, surprisingly, it’s what gave Tech the motivation they needed to apply pressure on the Blue Devils.
At the end of the first half, Tech trailed Duke by 17 points. The arena was flattened by the lack of effort that was on displayed by the Yellow Jackets, and it remained that way until Evan Cole, and Moses Wright entered the game with 17:56 to go in the second half. Both Wright and Cole combined for 19 points and was responsible for Tech cutting a 25-point lead to 12 points in 1:40 seconds.
“Part of the reason those guys were able to give us a lift and get better was because we’ve been treating them as ‘redshirts.’ They’ve been getting extra workouts in, both lifting and individual work on the court. And it’s made them better,” Pastner said.
As for Wright and Cole seeing more action this season, coach Pastner didn’t blink at saying they will see the floor with regularity.
“Yes. Absolutely,” he said. “Both Evan and Moses earned more playing time, and we’re still going to treat them as ‘redshirts’ in terms of the work mentality. That won’t change. … I also thought Evan and Moses really moved their feet well, defensively.”
What this means for Georgia Tech
Well, one thing is for sure, Pastner is staying true to what he has said to the media since attaining the head coaching position, and that is the second year of his stint was going to be the toughest. With Tech being in a rebuilding stage, he mentioned that there would be growing pains within the process of making the Yellow Jackets as formidable a team as it was in years past. Despite the snake-bitten year, it has been for his team, Pastner says that his guys have continued to display a great deal of heart while battling adversity.
“Our guys always fight, even when they get down, they always find a way to come back. They scrap and claw and fight and kick to find a way to give ourselves a chance to get back into the game. The issue is, why are we getting down to get to that point? Part of that, I would say, is because it’s a major rebuild job and year two is the hardest.”
The Yellow Jackets face Wake Forest Feb. 14 before hosting another tough opponent in Virginia Tech Feb. 17 at the McCamish Pavilion at 12 p.m. ET.
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