Jackets drop heartbreaker

ATLANTA — The disappointment was unbearable for Gani Lawal.

Pausing underneath the basket just seconds after a hopeful, game-winning 3-pointer desperately caromed off the rim, Lawal stood with his head bent over and arms at his side. Staring at the floor for more than 10 seconds, he was contemplating the depths to which his team had sunken, looking for ways to make the losing end.

“It’s just, I was thinking, ‘This can’t keep happening,’” Lawal said in Georgia Tech’s locker room minutes later, still searching for answers. “I mean, it’s not like we can’t do it. We just can’t seem to do it when it counts, and that’s disappointing.”

As he stared at the statistics sheet in his hand, Lawal’s disappointment was sinking in even further, as he began reflecting on Georgia Tech’s most recent loss. A 57-56 defeat at the hands of ACC foe Maryland, the Yellow Jackets (10-12, 1-8) succumbed Sunday to their second loss this season to the Terrapins (15-8, 4-5) and their sixth conference loss by seven points or less.

“It’s very disappointing that things are going this way, but especially as a senior,” Georgia Tech guard Lewis Clinch said. “As an individual, I feel bad because I feel like I could be working harder to make things go better for us.”

The loss was Georgia Tech’s eighth straight to the Terrapins since the 2003-04 season.

Poor shooting highlighted much of the game for both teams, with Maryland taking on more of the brunt of the shoddy play. Bouncing balls off rim after rim, the Terrapins struggled to a less-than-stellar 35.8 percent performance from the field, while Georgia Tech eased to a slightly better 40.4 percent shooting performance.

With the loss, the Yellow Jackets have now lost five games this season in which their opponents shot less than 40 percent. Each of those defeats have come against ACC teams.

“It’s tough, it’s been very difficult for our guys right now, obviously, but I am still proud of their defense,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said. “Offensively, these guys had some good looks. I keep stressing, ‘If you’re open and you have an open look, go ahead and shoot it.’

“There were times where we were in the paint trying to make a point-blank shot, and we’d pass it off, and pass into a turnover.”

Clinch admitted that his top problem Sunday night was letting go of his shot at will. Trying to work the ball to a completely wide open teammate, he found his own shot-making opportunities quickly vanished.

“I’m not saying me scoring 20 every night is going to make things better,” Clinch said. “But if you get an open shot, shoot it, that’s not just what I’m telling myself, that’s for everybody.”

One Georgia Tech player who had a lot of difficulty even getting a good look at a shot was Lawal. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward was double-, triple-, and at one point, quadruple-teamed by Terrapins defenders and was unable to go up with any kind of real authority. Dumping off sharp passes at key moments, he came away with two assists and, according to Hewitt, could have had more.

“When Gani gets doubled like that underneath, we have to really be able to get in position for him to pass out if he has to, and he did that (Sunday),” Hewitt said. “The first (two) shots (Maurice) Miller hit came when the ball came right out of Gani’s hands.”

Clinch — who took an errant shot before freshman Iman Shumpert launched the final-second, desperation 3-pointer off the rim — agreed that Lawal is the key to Georgia Tech’s offense. He said that is most evident when the Yellow Jackets are facing a team like Maryland, which didn’t have a starter over 6-foot-7.

“Any guy who draws a double team makes things better and a lot easier for everybody else, so we should feed off of him,” Clinch said.

In addition to shooting woes, the Yellow Jackets surrendered 24 turnovers, coming within four of their season-high which came Jan. 10 during the loss at Maryland. In that game, Georgia Tech gave up 28 turnovers.