Normally the first game of a basketball season is a good opportunity for the home team to draw a nice crowd and cruise to an early win. That’s hardly the case at Georgia Tech, where the Josh Pastner Era gets underway Friday night.
The Yellow Jackets host Tennessee Tech at 8 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion, but when Pastner talks about not being able to take the opposition lightly, it isn’t just coach-speak. Easy wins this year might be few and far between. Georgia Tech hasn’t lost a home opener since 2007 against UNC Greensboro.
“We’ve got to play near perfect to have a chance,” said Pastner, hired from Memphis in the spring after Brian Gregory was fired. “Our margin of error is close to none — and it may be none.”
That was evident last week in the exhibition game against Shorter. The Yellow Jackets rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final 6:06 to force overtime and wound up with a 95-87 win. Tadric Jackson scored 27 and Ben Lammers had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
“There’s not an opponent on the schedule where we can step on the floor and show up and expect to win,” Pastner said. “Our margin of error is none, and it doesn’t matter if we’re playing Shorter or Duke.”
Georgia Tech returns seven lettermen from last year’s 21-15 team, but it lost its top four scorers.
The Yellow Jackets started forward Quinton Stephens, center Lammers, guards Justin Moore and Josh Okogie and point guard Corey Heyward against Shorter. But there’s no guarantee those guys will get the nod in the opening game.
Pastner was known for frequently changing the lineup when he was at Memphis and is expected to carry that trait over to Georgia Tech. The lineup could be based on matchups or some preset criteria from practice. He determined the starters for the non-public exhibition on rebounding in practice.
“We’re a game-by-game type of team and everybody has to stay ready,” Pastner said. “I know our young men are going to lay it on the line every time we step on the floor. They’re prepared to fight, kick and claw to give us a chance.”
In the exhibition game, the Yellow Jackets shot the ball well from the field. Jackson and Lammers were each 9-for-10 from the field. Jackson came off the bench and did his damage in 23 minutes played. The exception was Stephens, who was 5-for-15 from the field.
Pastner wanted to play the exhibition game in order to get his players on the court and under the lights. He said some of the players, especially the younger ones, got tired faster because of their adrenalin.
“We did a lot of good things but there are a lot of areas to get better at,” Pastner said. “We obviously need to play way better on Friday night if we want to have an opportunity get a win.”
Georgia Tech will be without senior point guard Josh Heath. He is suspended for the first four games of the regular season and can return Nov. 26 against Tulane.
The opener is the first of five consecutive home games for Georgia Tech. It will also be the Salute to Service, with free meals offered to veterans with a valid military ID.
Tennessee Tech was 19-12 and tied for second in the Ohio Valley Conference last season. They reached the quarterfinals of the Vegas 16 Tournament. The Golden Eagles are a 3-point shooting outfit but lost four starters. The top returning players are guard Aleksas Jugovic, the team’s top 3-point shooter, and reserve Hakeem Rogers.
Georgia Tech is 3-0 against Tennessee Tech, most recently in 2007. The Yellow Jackets are 12-1 against current members of the OVC.