Georgia Tech

Defense carrying the day for Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner yells to an official about a call during a game against Syracuse last year.
Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner yells to an official about a call during a game against Syracuse last year. AP

The bright spot during Georgia Tech’s winning streak has been the team’s defense.

Georgia Tech, which hosts Grambling State at 7:30 p.m. Friday at McCamish Pavilion, has won four straight since the season-opening loss to UCLA. In three of those four games, the Yellow Jackets scored fewer than 70 points.

That’s why the defense has been so important. The Yellow Jackets are allowing only 58.6 points, but they are scoring only 63.6 points — dead last among ACC teams.

“Defensively, for the year and a half that I’ve been here, that’s been our calling card, our defense,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said.

Georgia Tech limited Northwestern to 36.2 percent shooting from the floor, the fourth opponent it has held below 40 percent. The Yellow Jackets are 19-5 in games under Pastner.

“If you look at the numbers and holding a team like Northwestern that’s got the firepower that they do and the shooting that they do, to hold them to 36 percent, we guarded well,” Pastner said. “That’s our calling card, that’s where we’re going to hang our hat. That’s our DNA.”

The offense, though, has been a struggle.

Ben Lammers has been hampered by a sprained ankle, which has kept him out of practices and limited him to game action. Lammers is averaging 16.2 points and has shown new skills around the basket and with his mid-range jumper.

The attack has been helped by the addition of Tadric Jackson, who has averaged 12 points in two games since returning from a three-game suspension. Freshmen Jose Alvarado (13.2 points) and Curtis Haywood (8.4 points) have made important contributions.

The offense will get a big boost when guard Josh Okogie, last year’s leading scorer, returns from injury. The sophomore’s NCAA six-game penalty will end on Friday, and he will be eligible to play again on Sunday against Tennessee. But Okogie may not get to suit up until the infection in his injured finger heals. That may not be until the ACC season begins at the end of December.

Grambling State (1-5) may be the soft touch the Yellow Jackets need between games against Northwestern and Tennessee, Georgia Tech’s opponent on Sunday. The Tigers led by two points in their last game against North Texas, but surrendered a 23-2 run in the second half and wound up losing by six points.

The Tigers have three players who average in double figures: sophomore guard Ivy Smith, who averages 13.5 points and 5.8 assists; junior guard Axel Mpoyo, who averages 12.3 points and 6.2 rebounds; and senior guard Diontae Jones, a transfer from Garden City Community College, who averages 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds.

Georgia Tech and Grambling have played only once, with the Yellow Jackets winning 100-88 in 1999.