In front of a very limited crowd and a couple dozen cheerleaders and band members, Tech took on a pair of in-state foes at the Georgia Tech Showcase on Wednesday (11/25). Opening the season with a Midtown-Downtown matchup against Georgia State, Tech hoped to build off of last season’s top-five finish in the ACC. Four overtimes later, however, Tech sat at 0-1.
The starters came out hot after Georgia State won the opening tip, and at the first TV timeout around four minutes into the half Tech had an 11-5 lead on the back of a three-point barrage. At the second timeout a few minutes later, the Jackets lead was at four, but a 15-0 Panther run gave the visitors a double digit lead. While the lead shrank slightly, a 34% first half effort from the field by the Jackets kept the deficit at seven.
After the Georgia State lead grew to double digits early in the second half, a Tech run created a manageable difference, and steadier play allowed the Jackets to tie the game and eventually retake the lead in the waning minutes. The teams traded fouls late, but thanks to both teams shooting under 60% at the stripe neither group was able to pull ahead and the game went to overtime tied at 77.
A low scoring first overtime went the last 2:41 without a point scored by either team and ended 83-83. Despite giving up a number of open three-pointers in the second overtime frame, Tech managed to keep it close and force a third extra period thanks to Jose Alvarado’s pair of made free throws with 7.6 seconds left, tying the game at 96.
The Jackets’ best chance to put the game away came late in the third overtime when a technical foul was charged against the Georgia State bench. Tech went up by four with barely a minute to play, but State clawed back and tied it with a pair of free throws with a second left to force overtime number four.
The fourth overtime, the first ever instance in Tech’s history, saw the teams trade baskets. The same five Tech players played every minute of the overtime periods until Wright and Alvarado fouled out with under a minute left, and with the preferred lineup off the floor, the Panthers were able to pull off the three point win.
Forward Eliel Nsoseme had an efficient night for State, scoring 22 points on 10-13 shooting, and Justin Roberts and Corey Allen scored 26 and 22 respectively playing through all overtime periods to lead the visitors to the win.
On the Tech side, Wright and Alvarado were the stars, doing everything they could to prevent a loss. Wright had a monster game with 31 points and 20 rebounds, cashing in 14 attempts from the charity stripe after a slow start from that spot. Alvarado had a strong all-around game, totaling 29 points, 10 boards, 4 assists and six steals, while Michael Devoe tallied a double-double as well with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
After a two day rest, a Tech squad that had four players play 47+ minutes matched up against Mercer. It was clear early on that there may have been some residual fatigue from Wednesday, as Mercer jumped to a quick lead. Tech had trouble chasing the Bears off the three-point line, leading to a flurry of open threes for the visitors. Very few fouls were called as Tech shot, and made, the only two free throws of the first half, and a high-scoring first half ended with the Jackets down by three. Pastner’s squad shot a much improved 58% in the opening frame including a respectable 38% from three, but allowed Mercer to shoot 48% themselves, with a staggering 57% rate from three.
Mercer pulled away in the second half, leading by as much as 19. Neither team got into the bonus until the final few minutes of the second half, and when Tech began to intentionally foul down by 13, near-perfect free throw shooting by Mercer kept the lead large. Tech fell to 0-2 on the year with an 83-73 loss despite another 20 point effort from Wright and an improved shooting night overall.
Tech has some key areas to work on through the rest of the season to salvage this rocky start. Opponents shot a combined 22-55 from beyond the arc, a 40% rate that, whether or not it is sustainable for opponents, belies the light defense Tech played on the perimeter. Turnovers have also been a problem for the Jacket offense this season, as they totaled 37 turnovers over the two games. Even adjusted to account for the numerous overtime periods, the rate of 14.8 per 40 minutes would place the team among the fifty highest turnover rates last season.
Pastner tried multiple defensive schemes through the first two nights of action. The 1-3-1 zone from last year has appeared less often so far but still seems to be the primary zone look. Man defense looked to be the most common set on that end of the floor, and it remains to be seen which look will be the better one as the season continues.
Despite the losses, bright spots are apparent for the Jackets. The team has had a positive rebound margin in both games and has been getting in passing lanes well to the tune of 8.5 steals per game so far. Shooting was significantly improved at all three levels in game two, a sign that the opening night’s poor percentages could have been an anomaly.
Wright has arguably been the best player on the floor in both games, pacing both teams in scoring in each contest. Putting up 25.5 points on 50/50/61 shooting splits and grabbing 12.5 boards a game, he has been a presence on the offensive end. Bubba Parham has provided a spark playing significant minutes off the bench and adding 14 points per game on his own. Devoe has dropped 19 points per game and between Alvarado’s balanced effort in game one and seven assists in game two, he has filled the stat sheet in more ways than one.
The season may not have started the way Tech fans hoped, but the college basketball season is a long one. Performance will fluctuate from game to game, and Pastner’s squad still has potential. Tech sports are consistently inconsistent, so bear with the team through bumps in the road in hope of better play to come.