In its ACC opener Saturday, Georgia Tech didn’t respond to the challenge that Miami presented. The Hurricanes played a physical style, the Yellow Jackets backed down and the result was an easy win for Miami.
“We want to be aggressive and we weren’t aggressive enough on offense on Saturday afternoon,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
The next step of Tech’s 18-game journey through the ACC will offer the Jackets the opportunity to address their shortcomings against Miami, but at the same time will demand even more from the Jackets. Wednesday, Tech will go on the road to play No. 20 N.C. State, the preseason favorite to win the conference.
If the Jackets’ effort and level of play aren’t considerably better, the Wolfpack could run the Jackets out of PNC Arena (formerly the RBC Center).
“They can hurt you in a lot of different ways,” Gregory said. “We’re going to have to play extremely well for 40 minutes.”
A 6 ½-minute lapse was enough to sink Tech against Miami. Over that stretch at the end of the first half, Tech played without forward Robert Carter and center Daniel Miller due to foul trouble. Poor shot selection and defensive breaches enabled Miami to break open a tie game and finish on a 16-6 run. The Jackets never threatened in the second half, ending their six-game winning streak.
“On offense, we didn’t have a lot of shots falling,” forward Kammeon Holsey said. “It kind of affected (the team’s play) a little bit on defense.”
Against Miami, Tech combined poor shooting with impatience to make 17 of 52 shots for a season-low 32.7 percent.
Said Gregory, “You can’t take wild shots in this league, difficult shots early in the shot clock.”
Against most of Tech’s nonconference opponents, moments of inattention could be overcome by the talent advantage that the Jackets enjoyed. The ACC opener was an education for freshmen Marcus Georges-Hunt, Chris Bolden and Carter. None played particularly well against the Hurricanes.
“Pace, better players, everybody here can play,” said Carter, citing the differences he observed. “It’s just a better game. (But) we can play in it.”
Georges-Hunt and Carter lead the team in scoring at 11.2 and 9.8 points per game, respectively. Gregory didn’t think they and Bolden were overwhelmed by Miami but wants them to be aggressive with their offensive chances against N.C. State.
“I like the progress they’re making, their development,” Gregory said. “In this league, it’s hard sometimes to rely on freshmen and that’s why our upperclassmen are so important to us.”
While Miami appears to be one of the most physical teams in the ACC, N.C. State punishes teams with its speed. The Wolfpack can convert missed shots or turnovers on the defensive end into transition baskets with fearsome efficiency. N.C. State leads the country in field-goal percentage at 53.1 percent, a reflection of the number of fast-break opportunities that it creates. Tech will need to find a way to slow down guard Lorenzo Brown, a junior from Centennial High.
Said Gregory, “There’s not many faster in the open court than Brown.”
Miller, Carter and Holsey will have another test in the post. Wolfpack forwards Richard Howell (Wheeler High), C.J. Leslie and T.J. Warren average a combined 41.9 points and 20.4 rebounds.
Last year, though, Tech managed to beat N.C. State in Raleigh, N.C., for its only road ACC win of the season and then was within four points with four minutes to play in an eventual 61-52 loss at Philips Arena. Gregory said the Jackets managed to beat N.C. State last year despite “a comedy of errors” in what was just the second ACC game of the season.