Perhaps its the most 2020 thing ever to play four overtimes on the opening night of the college basketball season. At least that’s how I will rationalize what took place last night - or I guess it was this morning - to try and erase the pain of seeing the Jackets battle for 60 minutes and still lose.
Georgia State (1-0) defeated Georgia Tech (0-1) 123-120 in 4 OT to kick off both teams’ seasons. The win gave the Panthers their first win in the series in over 40 years. Playing in front of a mostly empty crowd at McCamish Pavilion, it was up to each collective group of players to create their own intensity. The Jackets failed to do that in the first half, and ultimately it’s what cost them the game.
After starting fast and making its first three 3-point shots, Tech spent the rest of the first half mired in offensive struggles characterized by stagnant offense, poor shot selection, turnovers and a lack of energy. Georgia State’s 21-2 run helped give them a 7 point lead at the break. Tech came out of the locker room a different team on the offensive end, attacking the basket at will to great effect and ultimately regained the lead late in the game 71-70. The Jackets had two good looks to win the game in regulation, but couldn’t get either to drop.
In the first overtime period, Tech’s defense kept them in it with a number of key stops including a Panther miss at the buzzer. In double overtime, the Jackets again thwarted a State chance to win the game. The third OT was controlled by the Jackets and is the one they will want back. After a technical foul on Panther head coach Rob Lanier resulted in two Jose Alvarado free throws, Tech held a four point lead with the ball. What followed was a careless turnover in the backcourt from Mike Devoe resulting in an easy layup for State. When Alvarado later missed a free throw - his only one of the game - the Panthers were able to draw a foul on the other end, hitting both free throws to send the game to a fourth extra session. The Jackets had run out of steam by this point with Alvarado and Moses Wright both fouling out, missing a half-court shot from Bubba Parham at the buzzer to fall by three.
The Panthers were led by a quartet of 20+ point scorers, including an impressive performance from Eliel Nsoseme who the Jackets struggled to contain inside as he put up 22 points and 7 rebounds. The stars of the night for Tech were Wright and Alvarado, who both struggled to get into the flow of the game early on but were the main reasons the Jackets found their way back in it. Alvarado posted a double-double with 29 points and 10 rebounds but it was his defense and effort highlighted by his six steals that stood out. Wright put of a monster stat line in his 53 minutes; 31 points and 20 boards.
- It was extremely concerning to watch the offense function in the first half. The team seemed to be sleepwalking with minimal off ball movement and settled for far too many outside shots. But the team seemed to settle in on this front from the second half on, leading me to believe it was more of a rust situation than anything else, perhaps stemming from Tech’s strange decision to not run contact practices. Overall, a lot of the offensive efficiency metrics - shooting percentages, assist, turnovers - from this game look rough but the eye test difference from the first half to second half and OT was so stark that I am willing to give this a bit of a pass.
- Defensively, there were numerous things that stuck out to me. Tech gave up too many offensive rebounds but with a hard crashing team like Georgia State, this was an expected pain point. Some of the other struggles were less acceptable including transition defense. Tech got beat down the floor at least four times after made baskets leading to easy looks for the Panthers. That feels like something that can be cleaned up and it needs to be. Perhaps the most concerning thing was the Jackets rim protection. James Banks may end up being a bigger loss than we even thought heading into this season.
- Mike Devoe needs to be better than he was last night. He was sloppy with 8 turnovers and looked like the tentative freshman who settled for jump shots rather than the improved, aggressive player that we saw last year. Yes, he’s the best shooter on this team by a significant margin but I want to see him use his athleticism and get into the lane more. That opens up the offense for everyone.
- It’s only one game, but we got a clue as to what to expect out of the lineup going forward. it’s clear to me that we will be seeing a lot of Moses at center at least n the early going. Neither Saba Gigiberia nor Rodney Howard, who started at the 5, made an impact and if anything got played off the floor in the first half as coach Pastner opted for the smaller lineup in the second half to great effect. We’ll see how these two guys develop as the season goes but I do think this will be Tech’s best lineup, with Khalid Moore at the other wing spot and Jordan Usher sliding up to the 4 spot.
- Finally, taking a step back and looking at this game from a larger context, the focus immediately goes to how this loss will hurt Tech’s resume. This team has tournament aspirations and its fair to question how the committee will potentially view this loss down the line. With so much rust to knock off for teams, will these types of losses be considered acceptable in this COVID altered season? A lot will come down to how each of these teams play the rest of the season. I also have concerns about how this affects the team’s psyche after starting off the season with such a demoralizing loss. Moses Wright eased those concerns a bit when he said following the game, “There’s no time to mourn over this. We’ve got to get right back into it.” That’s the right attitude.
The Jackets get Thanksgiving off but get right back to business tomorrow as they look to bounce back against Mercer.