This is the time of year that basketball teams begin to fight the war of attrition. Georgia Tech is not exempt from that issue.
The Yellow Jackets, who travel to Miami at 8 p.m. on Wednesday to play the Hurricanes, are starting to get a little frayed at the edges.
Forward Quinton Stephens, the team’s emotional leader, reinjured a sprained ankle Saturday and is listed as doubtful. Center Ben Lammers, the team’s inside scorer and defender, injured an ankle Saturday. He took Monday off from practice but is expected to play.
Point guard Josh Heath was able to recover quickly from an ankle injury suffered against Tusculum and played in the team’s win over Boston College on Saturday.
In addition to those physical problems, the Yellow Jackets may be without point guard Justin Moore. His grandmother died, and Moore returned to San Diego for the funeral. His status is not known.
“We’re kind of banged up, got a personal issue, and we’re just trying to keep it together,” Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner said. “This time of year you try to stay healthy.”
The injuries are especially troublesome since Pastner has played only seven players a significant amount of time. The rotation already was hampered when Abdoulaye Gueye broke his wrist two weeks ago. He is likely out for the season.
If Stephens cannot play, most of the minutes will likely go to freshmen Christian Matthews, who has some outside punch, and Sylvester Ogbonda, who is better suited to play inside. Graduate senior Kellen McCormick is a solid outside shooter but has defensive limitations.
Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6 ACC) could certainly use a road win against Miami (16-8, 6-6) in order to keep its improbable push for the postseason afloat. The two teams are tied in the ACC, and each is fighting to solidify its postseason hopes.
One of the keys has been the ability to work the ball and find the open man. The Yellow Jackets are third in the ACC with 15.5 assists in all games and second in ACC-only games with 15.7 per game, behind only North Carolina.
The Boston College game is an example of the team’s ability to pass the ball and find the open man. Georgia Tech had 18 assists on 24 made field goals.
“We’ve done a nice job as a team,” Pastner sai. “Look at our assist numbers from where we started, and our assists are one of the best on made field goals. I’m really proud of the way we’ve shared the ball. Credit to them becoming a good team.”
The other crucial area has been defense. The Yellow Jackets continue to play hard all the time and their ability to change defenses, from man-to-man to one of several zones, can confuse and slow an opponent’s reaction time.
“Their defense is one of the top 10 in the country right now,” Miami head coach Jim Larranga said. ”They do some things out of man-to-man and zone that make it challenging for opponents to make adjustments. You need to have an overall formula about how you want to attack their defense. Players don’t want to over-react every time they make a change.”
Miami’s offense is led by Devon Reed, a deadly 3-point shooter, who averages 15.5 points, and JaQuon Newton, who averages 15 points.
The Hurricanes lead the series 12-8. The teams have split the last four games, with each winning the two away games.
“I think they’re really good,” Pastner said. “They’re an NCAA Tournament team. They’ve very well-coached, they play hard, they’re athletic, they’re excellent in transition, offensively and defensively. It’s on the road, and we know how hard it is to win in this league on the road.”