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Georgia Tech gets 28 second chances in victory over North Carolina State

All year, I've felt that North Carolina State is going to knock off someone big.  Kellie Harper's club has been playing above its level.  They came within two points of Duke and took Virginia to a four overtime game, losing both games.  Despite their lone win in the ACC, my impression was that some major contender was going to be eaten alive by the Wolfpack.  With Georgia Tech coming off its third straight ACC loss, I had a bad feeling about this game.

Instead, the 74-65 score at the end is actually a poor reflection of the game's second half - it wasn't nearly that close.  The Yellow Jackets ballooned the score up to 62-38 with just under 10 minutes left and with the game virtually in hand, Georgia Tech simply turned off its press defense and coasted in to the end of the game.  With the Yellow Jackets asleep at the wheel and most of the fans watching senior guard/forward Alex Montgomery approaching a career high, North Carolina State closed to 73-65 with 1:12 left - the Wolfpack had outscored Tech by a 2-1 margin since their 24-point deficit.  However, senior Wolfpack guard Amber White missed a 3-pointer and Montgomery got a steal off freshman forward Kody Burke, and the Wolfback were history.

The day before Valentine's Day wasn't hearts and kisses for MaChelle Joseph's club.  "We built this program on three core values," Joseph said, "it’s hard work, and it’s defense and it’s rebounding.  And if you give only one of those three that’s not good enough to be awarded a starting position."  Joseph said that she felt that Montgomery and junior center Sasha Goodlett didn’t "leave it all out there" during the Florida State game.

Junior center LaQuananisha Adams would only get her second career start as a Yellow Jacket, and junior guard Mo Bennett was penciled in to take Montgomery's place.  The Wolfpack took immediate advantage, taking off to an 8-0 lead and Montgomery and Goodlett's punishment lasted for exactly two minutes and twenty-five seconds.

The eight-point lead would be North Carolina State's biggest lead of the game as the restored Yellow Jackets now battled back.  A three-pointer by Wolfpack freshman guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman gave North Carolina State a 20-17 lead, but Georgia Tech answered with a 13-0 run that put them solidly in the lead.  In the final six minutes and a half minutes of the first half the Wolfpack only scored one layup and the Yellow Jackets led 31-22 at halftime.

The Wolfpack were on the ropes and would stay there.  Only in the last two minutes of the game was Georgia Tech's lead anything other than double digits.  The win put Georgia Tech at 7-4 in the ACC, guaranteeing at least a .500 record in conference play and essentially securing a bid to the NCAA tournament with three conference games left to play, two at home and one of those home games against Clemson.

(* * *)

If you're like me and pore the box scores for statistical truth - you look at stats to tell you what your eyes aren't seeing - you'll note that Georgia Tech won the battle of turnovers, offensive rebound percentage and free throw percentage. 

However, in terms of shooting they were a sad 34.1 percent from the floor.  North Carolina State's shooting percentage was only 36.8 percent - the game wasn't much of a thriller - but North Carolina State was more accurate than the home squad.

So why did Georgia Tech win?  The Wolfpack took 68 shots, but the Yellow Jackets took 82 shots - if two teams are playing evenly and the other team gets 14 extra tries, the second team is going to win.  Does this mean that Georgia Tech somehow had the ball more?

In sports like baseball, football, and hockey one team can possess the ball (in baseball's case, this would be prolonging the defense's possession of the ball) for as long  as it wants to, provided if it has enough skill.  In football, this skill is so important to controlling a game that time of possession is a meaningful statistic.  One really doesn't think of possessions in basketball the same way.  This doesn't appear to be the case in basketball, where the ball seems to go back and forth between teams and the only difference is that one team does more with its possessions than the other team. Shouldn't each team's number of possessions be equal in basketball?

Unfortunately, the Georgia Tech-North Carolina State box score doesn't count possessions, but we have a way to estimate them.

Possessions = .96 * (FGA - OReb + TO + (.475 * FTA))

Offensive rebounds are subtracted because one can get multiple shot attempts with the same possession with an offensive rebound.  The .475 multiplier is there because if a player drives to the basket and is fouled, the extra free throws are not a new possession.

Tech possessions:  0.96 * (82 - 28 + 19 + 0.475(20)) = 79.2
Wolfpack possessions:  0.96 * (68 - 15 + 22 + 0.475(16)) = 79.2

Wow.  Both teams had the ball the same number of times.  This is no surprise.  It is generally the case that both teams have the same number of possessions, excepting cases where one team gets the ball for a last-second heave at the basket with time expiring.

Maybe the effective field goal percentages of both teams were different (effective field goal percentage counts a 3-pointer as 1 1/2 field goals).

Tech effective FG percentage:  (28 + 5(.5)) / 82 = 37.2 percent.
Wolfpack effective FG percentage:  (25 + 5(.5))/68 = 40.4 percent.

Nope, that's not it either. So where did Georgia Tech win the game?

They won it on the boards.  When a shot is missed - and there were a lot of missed shots - there are only so many places the ball can go.  The ball can go out of bounds, and possession will be determined at random based on the player who last touched it.  The ball can go into the hands of a defender - but the defense would have been awarded the ball anyway if the shot had been good.

But an offensive rebound is something special.  A team gets the chance to make up for its mistakes and is basically a "do over" for the entire possession.  In my last game writeup, I wrote about how unforced errors killed Georgia Tech against Maryland, where they gave up possessions that they didn't have to give up.  This time, the Yellow Jackets did the opposite - they extended the time of their possessions by rewarding themselves second chances.

The offensive rebound rate of the Yellow Jackets was an astonishing 50 percent - for every Yellow Jacket miss, the chances were 50 percent that Georgia Tech would just grab the ball back off the boards and...try it again, or kick it out, or replan, or whatever.  Three Georgia Tech players - Goodlett (7 offensive rebounds), junior forward Chelsea Regins (5 offensive rebounds) and freshman guard Tyaunna Marshall (5 offensive rebounds) - together had more offensive rebounds than the entire North Carolina State squad.

Furthermore, offensive rebounds are important in that there are fewer "diminishing returns" from an offensive rebound.  Think of it this way - each offensive rebound a player gets might have been one that a teammate might have gotten anyway. (Georgia Tech has a lot of tall players, you know).  Maybe Montgomery times her leap perfectly by sheer luck and gets the offensive rebound, and if she had jumped 0.1 second slower Goodlett would have gotten the offensive rebound.   Likewise, each defensive rebound works the same way - when a missed shot comes off the board, Defensive Player A might grab it but it could have easily been Defensive Player B that got it.

Hardwood Paroxysm and other statgeeks claim that a lot of rebounding is positional, that it's just a part of being in the right place at the right time.  But not all of rebounding is positional, claim the statheads.  Some players are clearly better rebounders than others, and the statheads have determined that offensive rebounding is less a product of opportunity than defensive rebounding is.  Offensive rebounds, therefore, are a better sign that a team has something more than luck going for it.

(* * *)

Alex Montgomery would finish with 26 points and 12 rebounds on 10-for-24 shooting, just two points off her career high.  Two Yellow Jacket players would come close to a double-double - senior guard/forward Deja Foster with 11 points and nine rebounds and junior center Sasha Goodlett with eight points and 10 rebounds.

Four players on the Wolfpack roster scored in double figures, with freshman forward Kody Burke scoring 10 points and 11 rebounds for the only other double-double of the game.  Sophomore guard Marissa Kastanek led North Carolina State with 14 points.


* In preparation for the game – and to boost Georgia Tech’s low shooting percentages – the team practiced its layups in practice with "contact" where the players were hit with pads while practicing 100 layups.  The results weren’t what were expected, but who knows? Maybe it will pay off dividends later in the year.

*  Joseph gave a lot of credit to North Carolina State. "I tell you, I don’t want to play them in the ACC tournament," Joseph said. "I mean, I think they’re a team to be reckoned with.  They’re very talented, they’re continuing to get better.  They just have a – it’s almost like a demeanor that I try to get our kids to be like, ‘you’ve just got to risk it all to have it all’.  You’ve just got to show up every night and anything can happen."

*  If Georgia Tech can win all three of its remaining games, it would finish 10-4 in the ACC.  Georgia Tech has never won ten games in the ACC during the regular season.

*  Alex Montgomery said that tying or beating her career scoring mark wasn’t on her mind – but senior guard Metra Walthour was there to remind her.  "Our point guard said, ‘you need six more, you need six more’: I said, ‘okay, Mimi, okay’!"