This is not how head coach Josh Pastner envisioned the Georgia Tech basketball season beginning.
A 5-6 start, which includes losses to mid-majors Grambling State, Wofford and Wright State, have put the Yellow Jackets in a scramble mode. They have one more chance to figure a few things out when they host Coppin State at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the final game before the ACC opener Saturday at Notre Dame.
“I did not see this coming,” Pastner said. “I didn’t think we’d be 5-6. I thought we’d be 9-2 at the worst.”
Coppin State would appear to be the perfect opponent to get well against. The Eagles are 0-13 and coming off a 13-point loss to Mount St. Mary’s. They are limited offensively and have been routed by the likes of Cincinnati, Rutgers, Oregon, UConn and West Virginia.
Coppin State’s lineup features Cedric Council, a 6-foot-8 forward who played two seasons at Gordon Junior College in Barnesville. Council averages 3.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.
“We’re on the verge of being a very good team,” sophomore guard Josh Okogie said. “A couple more practices, a couple more games and I think we’ll be right there.”
Against Wright State, the Yellow Jackets blew a nine-point halftime lead thanks to some poor defense. Wright State shot 66.7 percent in the second half, continuing Tech’s trend.
“We’ve been poor to start the second half,” Pastner said. “I’m going to maybe make some changes to what we’re going. I’ve got a couple ideas and we’ll deal with it when we play Coppin State.”
The Wright State loss was especially surprising to Pastner. He said the team had practiced well on Wednesday and Thursday, had a good shootout, a good pregame workout and a solid first half. But Wright State outscored the Yellow Jackets 15-6 over the first four minutes of the second half to tie the game.
“I’ve been telling our guys, warning them, this is the next step as a team,” Pastner said. “You can’t turn it on and off.”
Pastner continues to push for improvement and consistency from center Ben Lammers, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds against Wright State. But Pastner bluntly stated, “It’s going to be a long year if Ben doesn’t play like a first-team All-ACC guy. If we want to win games, that’s how he has to play.”
The Yellow Jackets continue to miss freshman guard Curtis Haywood II, who has missed three games with shin issues. Haywood’s shins had been swelling and doctors ordered rest so the injury doesn’t become a stress fracture. Haywood, had averaged 10.2 points in his previous six games.
Despite warnings that the second year would be the roughest, the losing has worn on Pastner.
“We’re still limited. We’re still in year two,” he said. “I thought we’d come in on a roll. We can still do it. I believe so. But we’re a wounded animal right now, mentally and physically. We’ll have to find a way to get it done.”