Give Georgia Tech credit for doing a great job of staying between the man and the basket throughout the first half of the Yellow Jackets’ 63-62 victory over No. 19 Notre Dame Saturday night in Atlanta.
Normal penetrators Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia were slowed considerably, and those typical dump-offs on Zach Auguste rolls to the basket were few and far between.
Georgia Tech had the Irish scouted well and executed the defensive game plan during the first 20 minutes.
But the Irish had it rolling in the second half, converting 12 of their first 24 shots while the Yellow Jackets were missing 19 of their first 26. That offensive efficiency looked like it was going to propel Notre Dame to victory after trailing by as many as nine points in the first half.
An 8-0 run featured a V.J. Beachem three-pointer, an Auguste basket and another Beachem three-pointer. Then everyone got into the act. Vasturia scored backdoor on a great find by Jackson. Bonzie Colson missed from one side of the rim and rebounded it on the other for a put-back score.
After a great offensive rebound by Auguste that led to two missed free throws, Vasturia kept the possession alive with another offensive rebound. Rex Pflueger deftly banked a runner off the glass. Matt Ryan hit both ends of a one-and-one after drawing a charge from 270-pound Charles Mitchell. The Irish completed the 18-8 run with a Jackson-to-Auguste feed.
And then it all slipped away. Just inside of three-minutes, Notre Dame turned the ball over. After a Mitchell basket, Notre Dame had a shot-clock violation. After another Mitchell bucket, Pflueger found Auguste for the score. But it would be the last points of the game by the Irish – and Notre Dame’s only points over the final 4:42 -- as the Yellow Jackets were scoring nine of the last 11.
After a Jackson miss, a jump ball ensued. If the Irish had had a timeout remaining, Jackson would have called it and the possession could have been preserved. Instead, the possession went to Georgia Tech.
Marcus Georges-Hunt’s basket with one second remaining gave Georgia Tech the victory, and it happened after the smooth-functioning Irish offense suddenly couldn’t maintain its efficiency in the final three minutes of the game.
GLASS HALF EMPTY
Sitting squarely at the top of Notre Dame’s priority list against Georgia Tech was keeping the Yellow Jackets off the offensive glass. Georgia Tech came into the game with 73 more offensive rebounds than Notre Dame, led by Charles Mitchell’s 101.
By the second TV timeout, the Yellow Jackets already had four offensive rebounds and were gradually increasing their offensive possessions while the Irish were missing six of their first seven shots.
Notre Dame would overcome Georgia Tech’s six offensive rebounds in the first half and, to a large extent, the eight more that came in the second half. After all, the Irish did take a six-point lead with 4:42 remaining.
But the Georgia Tech put-backs reduced Notre Dame’s margin for error, which came in the form of several poor offensive possessions down the stretch. So when Mitchell scored twice within a one-minute span and Marcus Georges-Hunt hunted the game-winning score, the Irish had allowed one too many easy offensive rebounds/put-backs to withstand a sometimes-tricky road venue.
Remember that Georgia Tech defeated Virginia in McCamish Pavilion early in ACC play in January.
Mitchell and Nick Jacobs – another 260-pounder like Mitchell who transferred for a fifth year from Alabama – each had four offensive rebounds. Five others had at least one offensive rebound.
Notre Dame helped itself with 11 of its own offensive rebounds – three each by Auguste and Colson – but it was a weapon for Georgia Tech, one that could have been offset in a couple of ways, including a better road shooting performance from three-point range.
Notre Dame held a significant advantage, on paper, from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech’s Adam Smith is the only really proficient three-point shooter for the Yellow Jackets while Notre Dame boasts Beachem, Jackson, Vasturia and Ryan.
In road victories over Duke (7-of-16) and Clemson (10-of-22), and even in a loss at Syracuse (10-of-24), Notre Dame shot well from three-point range. But much like the road loss to Miami, when the Irish hit on just 4-of-16 from distance, the Irish needed a little bit more.
Notre Dame made 3-of-9 three-pointers in each half, failing to take advantage of a Georgia Tech weakness as the Yellow Jackets converted just 26.7 percent of their three-point shots (4-of-15).
The Irish even held Smith to just 2-of-7 from distance while Marcus Georges-Hunt and Quinton Stephens each went 1-of-4.
Only Beachem stepped up to the plate for the Irish on 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc. Jackson (1-of-6), Vasturia (1-of-3), Matt Ryan (1-of-3) and Pflueger (0-of-1) were a combined 3-of-13, which is how you find yourself one bucket short.
Another factor to consider when you lose by one point: Beachem fouled twice on three-point attempts, leading to four free throws made that never should have been attempted.