As Georgia Tech prepares for its final non-conference game of the season, it continues to search for answers at the forward spot.
The position has been an issue since the underrated Quinton Stephens graduated last spring. Stephens, a tall, skinner shooter, was an aggressive rebounder, a relentless defender and a threat from the perimeter. It’s been a void the team has struggled to fill.
The search continues at 7 p.m. Saturday when Georgia Tech (7-7, 1-1 ACC) hosts Yale (7-8) at McCamish Pavilion. The game is not being televised.
Now that the games are increasing in importance, the team is putting great emphasis on getting junior Abdoulaye Gueye ready for ACC competition. The 6-foot-9 native of Senegal — known to his teammates and coaches as “A.D.” — is making progress, but he’s far from a finished work.
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The focus remains to push Gueye’s defensive skills. He provides a big body (213 pounds) under the basket and can help center Ben Lammers protect the interior.
“All he’s got to do is defend, rebound, run the floor and don’t turn it over,” coach Josh Pastner said.
But he’s got to play. Talented freshman Moses Wright has limited basketball experience and has suffered through growing pains. Wright did not pay at Notre Dame and played two minutes on Wednesday against Miami before a frustrated Pastner yanked him from the lineup after getting burned defensively on back-to-back baskets.
“We want to play Moses more and we want to play Evan (Cole, the other freshman forward) more, but A.D. has been good defensively,” Pastner said.
Gueye had seven rebounds, one assist and one steal against Miami. He scored five points in 24 minutes before fouling out. The seven rebounds and five points were career highs against ACC competition.
In 13 games – he missed one with a sprained ankle – Gueye is averaging 3.8 points, four rebounds and 1.4 assists in 20.7 minutes. He’s blocked 11 shots.
Any offense he provides is a bonus, but the assistants can be seen working hard with Gueye on his offensive skills during pregame drills. He dropped in a left-handed hook shot against Miami, but still seems uneasy at times when he gets the ball.
“He’s got to make layups around the hoop,” Pastner said. “Got to score around the hoop, big fella.”
Yale has lost three of its last four games, but is coming off a win over Kennesaw State. The Bulldogs shot a season-high 60 percent in the win over the Owls on Dec. 30.
Sophomore guard Miye Oni leads the team with 17.2 points and 6.2 rebounds and was last week’s Ivy League Player of the Week. Freshman Paul Atkinson, a 6-foot-10 forward, averages 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds and shoots a league-best 71.3 percent from the field. Alex Copeland (11.7 points) and Blake Reynolds (11.3) round out the scoring.
Georgia Tech is nearly back to full strength. The entire team was able to stretch together for the first time earlier this week. The only player still on the sideline is guard Curtis Haywood, who has missed six games with a shin injury.