After ending the season on a 2-5 slide, Tech was pegged as a team falling apart at just the wrong time. The team’s NCAA tournament bid was in doubt and Tech would have to meet UNC in the ACC Tournament first round game in what amounted to a home game for the Tar Heels. Still, Tech was able to turn it around and, to the surprise of many, won four of its last six games after finishing the regular season.
The success has been attributed to many factors, some more true than others. Listed below are some of those that were significant factors in the victories (and close losses) and ones that may have seemed important but lacked the numbers to back it up.
Sophomore guard Iman Shumpert and freshman guard Glen Rice Jr. have taken on most of the responsibilities of guarding scorers on defense, and they have done outstanding jobs on opposing point and shooting guards.
During the postseason run, Shumpert defended four guards who made the first, second or third All-America teams, including Ohio State’s first-team player Evan Turner. In all four situations, he (with help from the other guards in rotation) helped hold them to some of their worst outputs of the season.
Turner got 24 points and nearly had a triple-double, but it is unfair to fault a porous defense. Turner is the go-to scorer on that team and tends to take most of the shots when the team is struggling, and Ohio State struggled in the first half. He had shot only eight-of-19 from the field and had nine turnovers, the second-most he had all season.
Oklahoma State’s James Anderson was one of the country’s leading scorers and the Big 12 Player of the Year. He averaged over 22 points a game. While being guarded primarily by Shumpert, Anderson was held to just 11 points, his second lowest scored during the season. He was forced into long, contested shots and got nearly as many points from the three throw line (five) as he did from the field (six) against Tech.
Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, the ACC Player of the Year, had two of the worst games of the season against Tech and was at his worst in the ACC Tournament. He shot six-of-21 and missed two game-winning or game-tying three pointers at the end.
Duke’s Jon Scheyer was much worse in his later game than in his first two. In his first game against Tech, he scored 25 points and nearly led his team to victory. While he only shot eight-of-19 from the field, he made five-of-six inside the arc and was the only Duke player in double figures.
In his third meeting with the Jackets, Scheyer had one of his worst offensive games. He made four out of 13 shots and was just two-for-nine from three-point range. Even on his game-winning three-point shot, he was forced to go right and had to take a very difficult shot.
In the six games, starting point guards were 21-of-65 and all but Turner were below their point averages on the season.
It may seem to be unfairly attributing the team’s success to intangibles by pegging them as lucky, but some of Tech’s victories seem like sure losses if examined by the numbers.
The “luckiest” game of all was the ACC Tournament quarterfinals playing Maryland. The Jackets allowed the Terrapins to shoot 24 more times (69 vs. 45), committed more than double the number of turnovers as Maryland (25 vs. 12), made less field goals total than turnovers (24 vs. 25), missed more free throws than Maryland attempted (14 vs. 13) and shot nearly double their three-point percentage average for the season (.667 vs. .362).
Despite being dominated in these typically important categories, Tech led nearly the whole game and won by five points. It could be credited to intangibles like “mental toughness,” but teams playing this way usually lose almost every time.
Tech suffered from many of the same problems against N.C. State and still pulled out the victory. The Wolfpack, normally a team that makes nearly 70 percent of their free throws, only hit 10-of-19 in the loss. If they had hit four more free throws, the number that would have brought them to about the average they had shot during the season, they would have scored 58 points and it could have been a N.C. State victory.
Unfortunately, two factors have been credited as helping Tech towards the end of the season that have had less of an impact as most people think.
Tech nearly had a perfect day from the free-throw shooting line in the Oklahoma St. game in the first round of the NCAA tournament, hitting 24-of-25 from the charity stripe. It was nearly a NCAA tournament record. It was the difference in what was eventually a close victory. Still, to highlight this as Tech’s improved free throw shooting ignores the results of most of the other games.
Against Maryland, as mentioned before, Tech made just 50% of its free throws and missed more free throws (14) than Maryland attempted (13). Lawal—who notably hit all four of his free throw attempts against Oklahoma State—was at his season-worst in the ACC tournament, hitting five-of-18 free throws, an abysmal 27.8 percent.
In what was representative of Tech’s free throw shooting at its worst, freshman forward Brian Oliver, arguably the best free-throw shooter on the team, was fouled on a three-point shot attempt and went to the line for three shots. He missed all three attempts, dropping his season free throw shooting percentage from .750 to .652.
Tech shot below average in all of its victories in the ACC tournament, only making above their season average in the game against Duke, a loss.
Many analysts and newspaper writers cited getting the ball to freshman Derrick Favors and junior Gani Lawal often resulted in the team performing better and getting the close wins. After looking at the numbers, the opposite is true and the two playing well is not a good indicator of success.
While their performances may carry a team and turn outcomes that would have been blowouts into close losses, it is difficult to credit the tandem for making losses more respectable.
Favors’ worst game of the six-game stretch was against Maryland, where he finished with just six field goal attempts and eight turnovers. It could be considered a blip in an otherwise promising freshman season, but he played his best game against the same opposition just three weeks earlier. He recorded 21 points and 18 rebounds and generally.
When Favors played his statistically strongest game, Tech lost a close game on a buzzer-beater. When Favors had his worst game as a Jacket, Tech held off a late rally to win.
Lawal’s performance is even less of an indicator of success. He averaged two less rebounds and two less points than his season averages. Including the last eight games of the regular season and the postseason run, the team was 4-1 when Lawal scored less than 10 points a game. They were 3-6 when he was in double figures.