ATLANTA, GEORGIA - Tech hosted Lamar in their Friday night season opener at the Thrillerdome.
Though it took a couple minutes to get on the board, the Jackets were the first to score in Friday night’s contest. And in that first half, the Jackets looked dominant, doubling up the visitors, entering the locker room up 44-22 at the half. They forced 16 turnovers, rebounded solidly and drew a lot of fouls, reaching the double bonus with plenty of time left to play in the half.
In the second half, or as Coach Josh Pastner more accurately put it, in the last fifteen minutes of the game, the roles seemed reversed, as Lamar came out of the locker room ready to play. The guests outscored Tech in the second frame, and reversed their high-fouling ways. In fact, they hit the double bonus quite early in the half and Tech big man A.D. Gueye fouled out with 9:52 to play. Several minutes later, he was followed by Sylvester Ogbonda. What had been scrappily jumping passing lanes, grabbing for loose balls, and high-energy play turned to more complacent, and less elegant basketball. Ultimately, the Jackets found that groove again at the end with solid veteran presences like Tennessee transfer Shembari Phillips and second year Tech graduate transfer Brandon Alston back on the floor. The Jackets looked like two different teams with different lineups on the floor, though, to Pastner’s credit, a perfect time to work out different combinations, especially of the newer guys, is when the team is presented with the leeway of a large second half lead in early non-conference play.
As foreshadowed in the exhibition, a big difference for this year’s Tech team is the ability to spread the floor. The addition of sharpshooters like Michael Devoe, who sunk a beautiful three in his first shot as a Yellow Jacket, as well as the improved health of the now-sophomore Curtis Haywood II, forces defenses to respect the Jackets on the perimeter, improving their options down low as well. Phillips, working inside, proved excellent, and took a few nice drives to the basket. Jose Alvarado, not to be outdone, almost pulled off a move incredibly reminiscent of this drive of his back in high school, tonight when he knocked an errant ball off a defender’s face and took it to the glass, though didn’t finish all the way through.
With now two games, one against Division I competition, under their belt, the Jackets have their work cut out for them. Though the game easily could’ve been a bigger win for Tech, they took care of business. The foul trouble by both big men in the second half needs attention, for instance, but the Jackets had their bright spots, too. This is still another year of young Yellow Jacket basketball. At the very least, they will be fun to watch, especially when they play with the intensity we saw to open the game. This team could sneak up on some people. There’s a lot to like. It is certainly not at the end of the rebuild, but there was a certain generally hopeful feeling walking out of McCamish Pavilion tonight.
The Jackets have the rest of the weekend off before traveling to beautiful, breezy Knoxville, Tennessee for a Tuesday night game against the no. 6 Tennessee Volunteers at 9:00 PM on ESPN2, or your Georgia Tech Basketball Radio Network of choice.