Overlooked in the lament about Georgia Tech’s lack of offense has been how good its defense has become.
And if the Yellow Jackets are going to continue to win ACC games and pull off upsets, they will need a series of defensive efforts similar to the one that led to Saturday’s win over North Carolina.
That includes Wednesday when the Yellow Jackets (9-4, 1-0 ACC) play at No. 8 Duke (12-2, 0-1) at 7 p.m. in the second of three consecutive games against opponents ranked in the top 10.
“Look at our numbers defensively, and we’ve been really good,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said after the North Carolina game. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been good defensively.”
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He cited the team’s effort against Wofford as an example. The Terriers entered the game ranked as one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the country but made only 35.5 percent.
“Now Wofford isn’t North Carolina, I get it, but they’re one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, and they shot 10 percent less than their average,” Pastner said. “We’ve done a good job defensively.”
North Carolina shot only 33 percent from the field, 15 percent lower than its season average. The Tar Heels scored only 63 points, their lowest total of the season. The Yellow Jackets forced 20 turnovers and came away with 15 steals.
“I was proud of our defense,” Pastner said. “North Carolina is one of the best offensive teams in the country. Look at our defensive numbers, and you’ve got to give us credit defensively. It was a great win overall.”
Knowing that the team he inherited had serious offensive limitations, Pastner has emphasized defense, conditioning and attitude from the day he stepped on campus. He demands the players compete on every play, every pass, every cut on the floor and has repeatedly — and correctly stated — that his team has no margin for error.
The Yellow Jackets rank 14th in the ACC and 280th in the NCAA with 68.6 points per game. But they’re No. 6 in the conference and No. 50 in the nation in scoring defense at 64.8 points per game. Their field goal defense (38.5 percent) is fifth in the conference and 29th in the nation.
“Offense comes down to skill and talent level, and we have limitations there,” he said. “Defense is about effort and energy and playing hard and flying around and making multiple-effort plays. You don’t need talent to do that. You just need a mentality of fight and an edge about you, and for the most part we’ve been pretty good about that.”
The Yellow Jackets will need a similar effort against Duke, which was upset by Virginia Tech on Saturday in Blacksburg. The Blue Devils have won the past nine meetings, including 80-71 a year ago in Atlanta, despite being without head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who was ill and stayed home.
This will be Krzyzewski’s final game for at least four weeks. He will have back surgery Friday, and assistant coach Jeff Capel will take the reins starting Saturday against Boston College. Duke was 4-15 when Krzyzewski missed time with back surgery in 1995.
Duke, like North Carolina, is an offensive juggernaut and averages 82.8 points on 47.7 percent shooting from the field. Luke Kennard averages 21.4 points and has scored 37 percent of his team’s points during the past three games. Amile Jefferson averages 13.8 points and 10.9 rebounds.
ACC honor: Georgia Tech freshman Josh Okogie has been named the ACC Freshman of the Week for the second time this season. The 6-foot-4 guard was honored for his 26-point performance against No. 9 North Carolina. Okogie was 11-for-13 from the line, including 6-for-6 in the final 1:05 to put the game away. Okogie shared the honors with Boston College’s Ky Bowman, who scored 30 points in a win over Syracuse.
Okogie earned the award the first time Nov. 28 when he set a program freshman record with 38 points against Tulane.