Georgia Tech will pose similar problems for Pitt as Virginia Tech did
March 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon will hope his team can recover from a disappointing loss at Virginia Tech; but the Panthers might have a similarly hard time against Georgia Tech today.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt had crushed Virginia Tech in January at Petersen Events Center, so it was natural to believe the Panthers would have their way again with the Hokies when they met Wednesday night in Blacksburg, Va.
But that wasn’t the case. The Hokies outplayed the Panthers and won by four points.
It was a tough lesson to learn for the Panthers about the danger of overlooking any team. How well they learned that lesson will be put to the test again today.
That’s because Pitt (20-9, 9-8 ACC) plays at Georgia Tech (17-13, 7-10) today at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta in the regular-season finale for both teams.
And like the game Wednesday night against the Hokies, this is a rematch against a Yellow Jackets team Pitt beat, 89-84, Jan. 6 at Petersen Events Center.
That was one of the best games the Panthers played offensively, but they likely will find it a bit tougher this time around because like Virginia Tech — which had won three in a row before Wednesday — the Yellow Jackets have played much better recently. Georgia Tech has won five of its past seven games and had won four in a row until Tuesday when they lost a heartbreaker, 56-53, at No. 11 Louisville.
Fifth-year Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory was asked earlier this week on an ACC coaches teleconference what led to this turnaround. He said the Yellow Jackets have played well and have been in games all year but are doing a better job of finishing now.
“If you look at the games we have played, we have played pretty well in all of them,” Gregory said. “Obviously, some were better than others, but we have been in almost all of them. But the difference is I think we have made consecutive plays at crucial times recently. It started with the Wake Forest game a few weeks ago.
“In the Wake Forest game, we made critical plays when we needed to. Lately, we didn’t just make one play, we made one play then made the play after that — like we got a stop and then a score or a stop and then score. I think in this league there is such a fine line that a lot of times a couple of plays at crucial times makes the difference in the game.”
Gregory said that the Yellow Jackets, who average 73.8 points per game, have been fairly consistent on offense but recently have gotten better defensively.
He said that if you watch the Yellow Jackets play now, there isn’t a big difference. On the other hand, the Yellow Jackets have lost five games by five points or fewer, so the change in their late-game details has been significant.
In the first game against Pitt, the Yellow Jackets had some late opportunities to score or stop the Panthers and did neither.
“We have executed well on offense,” Gregory said. “I do think we have improved defensively, our perimeter guys are defending better, our big guys are defending better.
“If you watch us now, there is nothing world-shattering that jumps out at you. If you watched us you wouldn’t say it is a different team, but it is a little thing here and a little thing there that is making the difference for us right now.”
In addition to the improved defense, Gregory can point to senior guard Marcus Georges-Hunt as a difference-maker. He is seventh in the ACC in scoring (16.8 ppg) and has averaged 18.6 points per game in conference games.
He has been on a bit of a tear recently, averaging 23.5 points per game in the Yellow Jackets’ recent four-game winning streak. He shot 63.6 percent from the field and was 6 of 11 from 3-point range.
He took a bit of a step back Wednesday at Louisville, scoring nine points and making only 3 of his 14 shots from the field. Gregory noted that was a big reason for the loss, but he also said the Yellow Jackets will go as far as Georges-Hunt can take them.
“One thing that is noticeable as far as differences is that Marcus Georges-Hunt is solidifying himself as one of the premier players in this league recently,” Gregory said. “He is going to have to continue to play at the high level he is playing at because he is playing as well as anyone in the league.
“He has had a very good year, but where we are at recently is a lot because of Marcus. He has raised his game and we have put the ball in his hands a lot more.”
Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette and Twitter @paulzeise.
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