The past week was one of mixed emotions for Tech basketball. The team’s conference season ended with a 61-59 loss at the ACC Tournament to the same Pittsburgh Panthers they beat in the home finale.
Neither team lit up New York’s Barclays Center with torrid scoring; in fact, both shot at a clip below 40 percent. The difference was a physical move by Pitt forward Michael Young against Ben Lammers with 58 seconds left to play. The basket, made by the player Tech fans heckled incessantly at McCamish Pavilion only a week before, pushed the Panthers’ lead to two possessions.
Despite last-second errors by both teams (most comically, both attempting to intentionally miss free throws and failing), the Panthers held on and set up a date with sixth-seeded Virginia the next day. The Jackets set up a return flight to Atlanta.
Even eternally optimistic head coach Josh Pastner admitted after the game that the team’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 were a “long shot,” according to ramblinwreck.com. Although Pastner argued that winning eight conference games in the ACC merits an invitation, it is unlikely that the selection committee will view the Jackets’ resume quite that way. A fatigued Tech team looked thoroughly outclassed against Syracuse on Saturday and still appeared to lack vigor on Tuesday evening. The high-energy style of play that kept Pastner’s Jackets in games against top-shelf opponents all season seems to have finally taken its toll.
But while Tech anxiously awaits its National Invitational Tournament (NIT) seeding or perhaps even a surprise invite to the so-called “Big Dance,” there are plenty of individual accolades to tide the team over.
Freshman guard Josh Okogie was named to the conference’s all-freshman team. Okogie joins Louisville’s Dennis Smith, Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Boston College’s Ky Bowman.
Even more praise went to center Ben Lammers. The voting panel tabbed Lammers as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and the voting was not close. Of 53 voters, 37 gave the nod to the soft-spoken Texan. Lammers also earned 15 of 53 votes for Most Improved Player, finishing second to Wake Forest’s John Collins. And he joined the aforementioned Smith on the All-ACC Second Team.
Conference recognition was not limited to the starting lineup. Head coach Josh Pastner earned ACC Coach of the Year honors. Unlike the Jackets’ success this season, the award is wholly unsurprising. Pastner was told to keep his expectations low and prepare for a rebuilding season.
In fact, expectations were equally low for Pastner, who had worn out his welcome in Memphis after showing himself unable to replicate the success of John Calipari (who now routinely molds high schoolers into NBA prospects at Kentucky.) But both parties more than held up their ends of the bargain, and Pastner’s upbeat style of coaching (and apparent willingness to respond to any feedback, even that from fan voicemails) certainly helped.
While Tadric Jackson’s name was often lost in the shuffle whenever fans and the media gushed over Pastner and Okogie, the junior guard and former four-star recruit finished second in the running in Sixth Man of the Year voting. Lacking multiple consistent go-to threats, the Jackets often depended on Jackson for a shot in the arm during close, low-scoring contests. He delivered in many of those occasions, including during the game against Pittsburgh.
Selection Sunday is not far, and with it will come news of the path ahead for Pastner’s Jackets. Recent news suggests that they are well-prepared for whatever they might face next.