Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt has no qualms about his team’s ability to score points. He’s more worried about the team’s defense as the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets enter ACC play Sunday at Miami.
“In order to string some wins together, we’ve got to become better defensively,” Hewitt said. “I think, offensively, we’re a very strong basketball team. Defensively, we’ve got a ways to go before we can consider ourselves a good team.”
Georgia Tech (6-1) is second in the conference in scoring at 86.7 points per game. However, it ranks near the bottom of the ACC in points allowed (71.4) and opponent field-goal percentage (44.4).
“I tell them all the time, for your speed to be a factor, you’ve got to do it on the defensive end and on the glass,” Hewitt said. “It’s hard for your speed to be a factor when you’re taking the ball out of the net all the time. That’s why we spend so much time working on our defense, getting in the habit of being disruptive.”
The Yellow Jackets have allowed each of their last two opponents to shoot more than 55 percent after Penn State reached that mark Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Georgia Tech overcame that shoddy defense for a 77-73 victory.
“I know coach Hewitt is disappointed that we didn’t challenge them better on the perimeter and in the paint,” Yellow Jackets forward Jeremis Smith said. “He’s right. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Georgia Tech will have to devise a game plan to slow down Miami’s Jack McClinton, the ACC’s leading scorer with nearly 21 points per game. McClinton is in his first season with the Hurricanes (4-3) after transferring from Siena.
“The points really don’t matter to me,” McClinton said. “I’m just trying to do what my team needs me to do. I’d rather have 10 in a win than have 30 in a loss.”
The task of defending the shooting guard could fall to Georgia Tech senior Mario West. The 6-foot-4 West made his first start of the season against Penn State and is regarded as the team’s top defender.
“When you’ve got a guy like that who understands what is all about, the others understand because he’s been there,” Hewitt said. “He was at the Final Four. He’s been to the ACC championship game. He’s been on very successful teams.”
Georgia Tech is playing its first road game after losing all eight away from home in the ACC last season.
Miami coach Frank Haith has more on his mind than the beginning of conference play. He will return for the game Sunday after attending Friday’s funeral for his 23-year-old nephew, Sean Bell, who was shot to death by New York City policemen last weekend on the morning of his wedding.
“Basketball’s been good for me this week,” Haith said. “It’s been a tough week. … With the tragedy as it is, it’s been soothing for me, so to speak, to stay involved.”
The Hurricanes are unbeaten at home (3-0) this year, and will be playing in front of a rare sellout crowd on campus.
“This game is probably going to be a sellout and that’s great,” Haith said. “You can have a game in the fall where you can have a packed house. I think all those things are positives. Playing a team that’s probably picked third or fourth in our league and top 20, you ought to be excited about playing that kind of game.”