Georgia Tech knocks off No. 15 Miami

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The start of ACC play appeared to be a manageable one for No. 15 Miami, as the Hurricanes opened with games at Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. However, after handling the Panthers on Saturday the Hurricanes ran into trouble in Atlanta. The combination of Josh Okogie and the Yellow Jackets throwing out multiple looks defensively proved to be too much for Miami, which fell by the final score of 64-54.

Here are some thoughts on Georgia Tech’s surprising win over Miami, and what it potentially means for both teams moving forward.

1. Improved health makes big difference for Georgia Tech.

There’s no sugar-coating it: the Yellow Jackets did not play well for much of non-conference play. And while there’s no excuse for some of the losses Josh Pastner’s team took, this is a group that also had to navigate suspensions and injuries. Two of the team’s key players, Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers, struggled with injuries during non-conference play while Okogie also had to miss time due to an NCAA rules violation.

Both played pivotal roles in Wednesday’s win, with Okogie scoring a game-high 30 points while also grabbing nine rebounds and Lammers adding eight points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, as Lammers was just 3-for-11 from the field and Okogie needed 23 shots to get his 30, but in a game that lacked rhythm (to Georgia Tech’s benefit) both were good enough.

Georgia Tech will have to “muddy” things up some to be successful in ACC play, especially given the fact that it’s operating with a six-man rotation right now. Wednesday night that approach worked.

2. Miami settled for jump shots far too often, struggling with Georgia Tech’s multiple defensive looks.

Despite the number of guards capable of making plays off the dribble on the roster, the Hurricanes haven’t been all too good at getting to the foul line this season. Miami entered Wednesday’s game with a free throw rate of 27.3, which ranked 304th nationally according to kenpom.com, and they were even worse in that regard against Georgia Tech. Miami posted a free throw rate of 19.6, attempting just 11 free throws on the night.

Far too often Miami settled for pull-up jumpers, being it from thee (4-for-19) or in the mid-range game. Bruce Brown finished the game 4-for-12, Chris Lykes 2-for-10, Ja’Quan Newton 3-for-7 and Lonnie Walker IV 3-for-8 as Miami struggled with Georgia Tech’s multiple defensive looks. The Yellow Jackets used man-to-man at some points, a 1-3-1 at others, which impacted the tempo at which the game was played.

3. Jose Alvarado will have better nights, but he did some good things as well.

For a point guard to have seven turnovers in a game, one would think that his team would wind up on the losing end. Luckily for Georgia Tech freshman Jose Alvarado, who turned the ball over seven times, he had help in the form of Okogie, Lammers and a team defensive effort that forced 18 Miami turnovers. The turnover count for the freshman wasn’t optimal, but he also accounted for 12 points, three steals and two blocked shots.

One of those blocks came on a Lykes three-point attempt with 1:46 remaining that could have trimmed the margin to five points. Instead, Alvarado’s subsequent layup extended the Georgia Tech lead to ten. Miami would get no closer than seven from that point forward. Alvarado, who continues to learn what it takes to play the point at a high level, has now reached double figures in scoring in four of the last five games. If he can keep the turnover count down (he had just one against Notre Dame) Alvarado should be able to have an even greater impact on a team that will need him to do so.

4. Miami now enters a difficult three-game stretch that will have a major impact on its ACC hopes.

Why was taking care of business against Pitt and Georgia Tech so important? Because Miami’s next three league games are against No. 24 Florida State, No. 25 Clemson and No. 2 Duke. The good news is that the Florida State and Duke games will be in Coral Gables, but none of those games will be gimmes by any stretch of the imagination. Florida State has the athleticism and balance to give Miami trouble on both ends of the floor, and thanks to its improvements across the board Clemson is more of a threat than anyone imagined them being before the season began. Lastly there’s Duke, one of the team on the shortlist of surefire national title contenders in the eyes of many.

Those games represent challenges for Miami, but they’re opportunities as well. And for the Hurricanes to take advantage, they’ll need to be far more efficient offensively than they were Wednesday night in Atlanta.