Georgia Tech

No rest for Jackets as No. 15 Tar Heels await

Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers (44) battles Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter (12) and Jack Salt (33) for a rebound during the first half of their game Thursday in Atlanta.
Georgia Tech center Ben Lammers (44) battles Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter (12) and Jack Salt (33) for a rebound during the first half of their game Thursday in Atlanta. AP

Georgia Tech failed to capitalize on the opportunity to grab a share of the lead in the ACC. Now the Yellow Jackets have an even bigger test if they want to remain near the top of the standings.

Coach Josh Pastner’s team must travel to No. 15-ranked North Carolina for a game Saturday, the second of a torturous four-game stretch against ranked oppositions. The defending national champion Tar Heels are always a handful at home, plus they have added incentive since they lost to Georgia Tech a year ago in Atlanta.

“We’ll bounce back,” Pastner said after Thursday’s disappointing 64-48 loss to No. 2 Virginia. “It’s the ACC. It’s the best basketball league in the country. It’s a grueling schedule and we play North Carolina on Saturday, so we’ve got to get ready for that. We’ll continue to improve and get better and compete and be ready to go at it.”

North Carolina (15-4, 4-2) has won three straight games after suffering back-to-back losses against Florida State and Virginia. The Tar Heels whipped Clemson 87-79 on Tuesday.

“We’ve just to man up,” senior Tadric Jackson said. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Georgia Tech’s ongoing problem is the lack of offense, particularly from senior Ben Lammers. The preseason All-ACC selection continues to struggle to score. He managed only four points against Virginia, his third four-point game of the season, and took only four shots from the field.

Pastner had a pointed conversation with Lammers after the game and told him: Shoot the ball.

“I told Ben, whatever it is, you’ve got to snap out of it,” Pastner said. “It’s between the ears. You know, when you’re not scoring, it sucks the life out of you. It just does. I think there’s a confidence issue with Ben. Like I told him postgame, I want him to take 30 shots, I want him to take 25 shots. Even if he misses all of them, just shoot the ball, shoot the ball, shoot the ball. Be aggressive. Demand the ball.”

Lammers is averaging 11.7 points and guard Josh Okogie averages a team-high 17.8 points. But when both have an off night, as they did against Virginia, it’s difficult for Georgia Tech to have a chance to win.

Georgia Tech will also need to cut down on the turnovers after giving it away 18 times against Virginia. The Yellow Jackets had averaged only 12 turnovers during their four-game winning streak.

“We’ve been much better at taking care of the ball, but (against Virginia) you have 18 turnovers,” Pastner said. “You cut that in half, get a few extra shot attempts, who know where the game goes.”

The Yellow Jackets cannot afford 18 turnovers against North Carolina, a far superior offensive team to Virginia. The Tar Heels average 83.9 points, nearly 14 a game more than the Cavs. Conversely, the Heels are not in the same class on defense as Virginia and rank in the middle of the ACC with 71 points allowed.

North Carolina’s offense is led by Luke Maye, a 6-foot-8 junior who averages 17.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and is shooting 48 percent on 3-pointers. The Tar Heels have an NBA-level guard in Joel Berry, who averages 17.4 points, and a slew of other 4- and 5-star talent.

Georgia Tech stunned North Carolina 75-63 last year, with Okogie scoring 26 points. The win came only three days after the Yellow Jackets struggled to beat lowly North Carolina A&T.

“This is the ACC,” Lammers said. “You play against good teams every night. We have to have a short memory and get ready to play North Carolina.”