Georgia Tech

Bulldogs struggle down the stretch

ATLANTA — Trey Thompkins said Georgia knew what to expect but simply wasn’t prepared to handle it.

Head coach Dennis Felton said the Bulldogs’ problems Tuesday night were easy to identify. They were the same issues that had haunted the team in its previous losses.

Senior Corey Butler summed it up succinctly: Georgia Tech had poise, and Georgia didn’t.

The result was a 67-62 Yellow Jackets win in a game Georgia had control of for the majority but watched slip away amid a flurry of turnovers and missed opportunities.

“We knew we had to stay poised, and unfortunately we didn’t,” Butler said. “We turned the ball over more times than we would have liked, we didn’t get enough shots up. Just poise is the word.”

With SEC play looming, Tuesday’s collapse left the Bulldogs looking for answers for mistakes they found hard to explain.

Georgia held a commanding 13-point lead early in the second half, but Georgia Tech’s fullcourt press sent the Bulldogs’ offense into a tailspin. While neither team shot well, Georgia Tech was able to overcome the large deficit with tenacious play on defense and under the basket. Georgia turned the ball over 19 times in the game and managed just 55 shots — 17 fewer than Georgia Tech — thanks to a 23-13 advantage on the offensive boards for the Yellow Jackets.

“We rushed a little bit (Tuesday) when they ran that press,” guard Zac Swansey said. “We needed to get a shot every time. We were trying to just attack when we had numbers rather than pull it out, and a few times, we had a few unforced turnovers that led to easy baskets to them.”

The turnovers aren’t a new problem for Georgia, which lost to Missouri three days earlier largely due to an inability to protect the ball. As the team readies for SEC play, which begins Saturday against Tennessee, it’s an issue Thompkins said the Bulldogs must address quickly.

“We’ve got to get better at handling pressure,” he said. “Obviously teams are going to throw every press and every trap game that they have at us because they know we’re young, they know our guards are small, and they feel like they can trap us. So we’ve got to get better. It’s a team effort. We’ve all got to come to the ball and do our part.”

Georgia Tech’s trap caught the Bulldogs off guard early but intimidated late. Even when Georgia managed to beat the press, easy layups were thwarted by eight blocked shots. As the game wore on, several of Georgia’s players appeared gun shy near the hoop, settling for short jumpers rather than driving to the basket.

“They made some almost hard-to-believe number of plays at the rim to erase some dunks and lay-ups by us,” Felton said.

The task won’t get any easier looking ahead.

Butler said Georgia Tech was a team that Georgia felt comfortable attacking, knowing the Yellow Jackets hadn’t been successful at creating turnovers prior to Tuesday’s win.

While Georgia’s inexperienced backcourt might earn a bit of sympathy for an uneven performance, the Bulldogs’ struggles on the boards were inexcusable, Swansey said.

Georgia Tech had numerous second and third opportunities, which created a sizeable shot differential as the game wore on.

“Rebounding and defense are our two biggest strengths,” Swansey said. “To give up 23 offensive rebounds, that’s embarrassing.”

The lack of shots and the problems getting rebounds led to a 10-minute stretch in the second half in which Georgia failed to record a field goal. By the time Thompkins stopped the bleeding with a jumper to regain a two-point lead, Georgia Tech had turned the game’s momentum with a 19-6 run.

The late-game swing undermined some small steps forward, Felton said, but it also underscored some of the Bulldogs’ biggest problems.

While Swansey said there’s an upside to looking at Tuesday’s game as a learning experience in Georgia’s final tune-up before SEC play, he said the lessons need to be put to use in the weeks to come.

“I thought we were the better team for 32 minutes of the game, but they were the best team for the other eight minutes,” Swansey said. “We’ve just got to get our young guys ready and learn how to close this out. It’s going to be big for us in conference play.”