Georgia Tech

Tech can’t afford misstep against young Pitt

Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers and Brandon Alston (4) defend Notre Dame guard TJ Gibbs (10) as he drives to the basket during the first half of their game Wednesday in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers and Brandon Alston (4) defend Notre Dame guard TJ Gibbs (10) as he drives to the basket during the first half of their game Wednesday in Atlanta. AP

It isn’t often that Georgia Tech’s opponent is younger than the Yellow Jackets. That’s exactly the case Saturday when head coach Josh Pastner’s team plays a Pittsburgh team that started five freshman in its last game.

The Pitt Panthers make the youthful Georgia Tech basketball team look like bunch of old geezers.

Georgia Tech (9-7, 2-1 ACC) visits Pittsburgh (8-9, 0-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Georgia Tech, with two seniors, one junior, one sophomore and one true freshman in the starting lineup, is quite youthful by normal standards. But Pitt isn’t the standard; the Panthers started five freshmen on Wednesday against Duke.

The youth movement wasn’t completely by design. Ryan Luther, the team’s dependable 6-foot-9 senior forward, was averaging 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds when he injured his foot after 10 games. This week Pitt head coach Kevin Stalllings said Luther had been re-evaluated and is finished for the year.

Pitt has struggled with its youthful lineup without Luther. They’ve lost four straight games and were soundly whipped 87-52 by Duke on Wednesday.

“It’s challenging, but we’ve got a great group of guys,” Stallings said. “They continue to practice hard and play hard and continue to be very coachable. We’re all in this together and we’ll keep fighting until something good happens.”

Georgia Tech hopes the Panthers wait at least another game before they put it all together. The Yellow Jackets are hardly a completed project, but they’ve won three straight and stand 2-1 in the ACC after knocking off Notre Dame on Wednesday. A win would give the Yellow Jackets their best start in the ACC since 2009-10.

“We’ve been getting better,” Pastner said. “Part of that is we got healthy and have been able to practice. We’ve been going two-a-days (when school was out) and on Monday school was canceled so we went twice, because the more we can do two-a-days – and we won’t be able to anymore because school is back in session – but really allowed us to get better. It’s just that we were able to get healthy and get back in rhythm and we’ve improved.”

A win against Pitt would give the Yellow Jackets a boost going into the next stretch of four games against ranked opponents – vs. No. 3 Virginia, at No. 20 North Carolina, at No. 23 Florida State and vs. No. 19 Clemson.

Pitt and Georgia Tech are two of the weakest offensive teams in the conference. Georgia Tech is last in the ACC with 66.4 points, with Pitt only one step above with 66.6 points.

The difference is in defense, where Georgia Tech is fourth in the league at 63.3 and Pitt is 12th at 70.9. Pittsburgh’s scoring margin is minus-4.4, the only negative differential in the conference.

“We play multiple defenses,” Pastner said. “I think we’re unconventional and we’re different than anyone else in the league. That doesn’t always guarantee anything, but you’re a different scout and defense than other teams have to face because we do different things.”

Georgia Tech won the regular-season meeting between the two teams last season at McCamish. But Pittsburgh upended the Yellow Jackets in the first round of the ACC Tournament, ending Tech’s longshot chances for an NCAA spot and sending them to the NIT.