There’s no question that the Georgia Tech basketball team has been the surprise of the season in the ACC.
No outsiders expected much of the Yellow Jackets this season. In fact, head coach Josh Pastner likes to tell the story about how one so-called expert told him the team wouldn’t win a conference game. And Pastner loves to revisit how then-athletics director Mike Bobinski told him they might not win a total of 20 games during the first two seasons.
The results have been surprisingly good so far. Georgia Tech takes a 11-7 overall record and 3-3 conference mark into Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against No. 16 Virginia in Charlottesville.
“Nothing has changed,” Pastner said. “Our margin for error is still zero. We’re a possession-by-possession team. We’ve gotten better, and we’ve got to continue to improve.”
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Here’s what we know about the Yellow Jackets: They have a very limited offensive team. When they get contributions from Quinton Stephens and Tadric Jackson to help Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie, the Yellow Jackets have a chance.
They play hard — all the time. If the opposition doesn’t come ready to play or decides to coast because it’s playing Georgia Tech, the door becomes wide open for the Yellow Jackets. The willingness to play all-out gives a team will less ability a chance.
“It’s still a long way to go,” Pastner said. “We’re so far from being out of the woods. We have severe limitations in a lot of areas. We’ve got 12 league games left. It’s such a gauntlet, and there’s no relief. If we’re not near perfect, it could be a long night for us every time we step on the floor.”
Pastner credits his players for buying into his high-energy scheme. He credits the assistants for speeding the process of player development.
“I believe in energy and enthusiasm,” Pastner said. “We’ve got a long way to go. With the schedule in front of you, you could lose 10, 12, 13 in a row. ... We have gotten a lot better. We’ve improved from day one, and guys have had great team unity.”
Georgia Tech put a scare into Virginia Tech on Wednesday, eventually losing 62-61. Stephens continued his streak of good play with 18 points, including five 3-pointers. Stephens missed a contested jumper at the buzzer that would have won the game.
But the Yellow Jackets lost the game because they missed too many layups and shot only 9-for-15 from the free-throw line. Three of the misses were the front end of one-and-one situations.
Virginia (14-3, 4-2) isn’t likely to be one of those teams that overlooks the Yellow Jackets. The Cavaliers have the best defensive team in the conference, allowing 53.4 points, which exacerbates the Georgia Tech problem. The Cavaliers have won three straight and beat Boston College on Wednesday.
The Cavaliers only average 69.9 points and are led by sharp-shooting London Perrantes with 12.1 points per game. He is the only player in double figures, with Marial Shayok averaging 9.7 off the bench. Isaiah Wilkins, the former Mr. Georgia Basketball from Greater Atlanta Christian, averages 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds.