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Georgia Tech paints a loss on Clemson, or "why points in the paint matter"

When Clemson came to visit Georgia Tech for their second regular ACC game against the Yellow Jackets, the Lady Tigers didn't have much of a chance to win but they knew that Tech would bring the ball inside.  The key to the night would be how well they could stop Tech inside, and the final score told the story of Clemson's success - or lack of it, as the Lady Tigers were thumped 72-46 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Thursday night.

"We talked about at halftime that we had to be more aggressive in our defense and put more pressure on the ball and I thought we came out in the second half and really pressured the ball and were able to get some turnovers and some easy baskets," Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said. 

The win moved Georgia Tech to 20-8 on the season - its fifth-consecutive 20-win season - and Tech moved to 8-4 in ACC play.  The Yellow Jackets are assured of finishing better than .500 in the ACC and the Yellow Jackets still have an outside shot at 10 ACC regular season wins if they win their final two games against North Carolina and Miami.

It wasn't exactly a compelling game.  Both teams had trouble getting started  - the Yellow Jackets missed their first seven shots and the Lady Tigers missed their first two, with the first basket not being scored until almost four minutes in.  It remained a low scoring game in the first half, with Georgia Tech having some trouble locating Clemson junior forward-center Lindsey Mason who scored a pair of back-to-back baskets under the rim to give Clemson a 12-10 lead with 11:08 to go. Tech righted itself with a 7-0 run but the first half was a generally low-scoring effort.  The Lady Tigers closed to three points, 21-18 with 3:13 to go, but junior guard Mo Bennett added a three pointer and junior forward Chelsea Regins - who scored six points off the bench for Georgia Tech in the first half - scored Tech's last basket to give the home team a 26-18 lead at the half.

But the second half was a different story with Tech establishing clear dominance over the Lady Tigers.  But what exactly was that story?

(* * *)

There are two goals in looking at basketball stats -  the first is to provide objectivity and to remove any home-team bias.  The second is to attempt to catch things that the eye might have missed and that are only visible in retrospect.

The major problem with this approach is that it's rare to find an event in basketball that isn't dependent on context.  Take steals, for example.  Clemson had 26 turnovers with 16 turnovers coming off Georgia Tech steals.  (Clemson did not have many 'unforced turnovers', turnovers which are dead-ball turnovers.)  But is a steal a sign that the player with the steal is great in interrupting the player with the ball's dribble, or was the steal a sign that the defensive player was over-agressive, but got lucky anyway?

Freshman point guard Dawwn Maye led Georgia Tech with five steals - but she also led Georgia Tech in turnovers with six.  Even Maye's turnovers are context-dependent, as she's a point guard and gets more chances to handle the ball - point guards will invariably have a lot of turnovers, and Maye's game requires some fine-tuning. 

"She forces the issue on the floor,"  Joseph said, "which I like that.  I mean, it creates more up-tempo.  She's very different from [junior point guard Metra Walthour], so it gives us two totally different styles of play.  When Dawwn's in there, we play a little bit faster, when [Walthour's] in there we're more's a little riskier with Dawwn in there but it's a little faster."

Even a statistic as basic as shooting percentage can be context dependent.  We can look at raw shooting percentage, or the stathead version which is called effective field goal percentage (where a 3-pointer is 1 1/2 regular baskets.)

Effective FG percentage:

Clemson:  39.2 percent
Georgia Tech:  47.6 percent

That was clearly the key to the game - the Yellow Jackets were better shooters than Clemson.  But if you note the box score - which provides half by half shooting percentages - Georgia Tech's effective shooting percentage started at 37.8 percent and jumped to 58.1 percent in the second half.  This jump in accuracy turned an eight-point halftime lead into a 26-point blowout. 

But where did this change in accuracy come from?  Near the bottom of the box score there's a line called "Points in the paint - CU 16,GT 40"  For those who don't know, the 'paint' (also called the free throw lane) is the rectangular painted area starting at the baseline (or endline) and capped with a semi-circle.  Any shot scored from this area is counted separately in the box score.  You can actually think of a basketball half-court as being divided like Gaul into three parts:

1.  the paint, or free throw lane
2.  outside of the paint but inside the 3-point arc
3.  outside of the 3-point arc up to the division line

Furthermore, the areas are in descending order of both the ease of making a shot - it's easy to make a shot in the paint at point-blank range but harder from outside the 3-point arc - as well as in descending order of the likelihood of finding a defender.  Points made in the paint/free throw line are easy points to make because players are shooting close to the basket.  However, they require more effort as the shooter is more likely to face one or more defenders.

Clearly, with 40 points in the paint - 20 shots taken at close range - Georgia Tech was willing to work hard for its high-percentage baskets.  Clemson's approach to counter Georgia Tech was to enter a 2-3 defensive zone.  The 2-3 zone is very common, and according to the Wikipedia article on the 2-3 zone  it undoubtedly held two attractions for Clemson - it could fill the paint with defenders when needed to force Georgia Tech to fight for every shot inside and with a scoring defense ranked 10th in the ACC the 2-3 zone allowed Clemson head coach Itoro Coleman to help her less defensively-skilled players. 

"Clemson played 40 minutes of the 2-3 zone," Joseph said. "They didn't play one possession of man until the very end, the last couple of possessions.  I thought it was good for us to be able to score 70-plus points against a 2-3 zone, because we haven't been able to do that this year."

Georgia Tech scored despite Clemson's increased presence in the paint.  They had 14 points in the paint the first half (not seen in the final box score but in the halftime box score) but scored 26 points in the paint in the second.  The Yellow Jackets seemingly went to the basket at will in the second half.  Joseph talked about the team's lay-up drills with contact - something they had been working on since the Georgia Tech-NC State game.  The drills paid off for the Yellow Jackets.

The 47.6 percent effective shooting tells us something else - it tells us that even though Georgia Tech was shooting well in the paint, it wasn't shooting well anywhere else.  Points in the paint are high percentage shots because they're taken so close to the basket.  If the Yellow Jackets were scoring so well in the paint, you'd expect their effective shooting percentage to be above 50 percent.  But it wasn't.  Both teams were having problems with shooting that night, but Georgia Tech solved its problem by muscling its way to the basket.  Clemson couldn't, and that was the game. 

(* * *)

Junior center Sasha Goodlett would lead all Georgia Tech players in points with 12 points, and senior guard-forward Alex Montgomery added 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting.  Freshman guard Ty Marshall started the first half 0-for-4 and spent most of the first half in foul trouble.  She would finish the night with only six points on 2-for-9 shooting.  Chelsea Regins also finished in double digits with 10 points.

Only two Clemson players finished in double-digits - senior forward Jasmine Tate had 10 points and Lindsey Mason also finished with 10.  Unfortunately, the Lady Tigers needed more from its starters, with junior center Shaniqua Pauldo, senior guard Sthefany Thomas and junior guard Bryelle Smith combining for just five points in sixty-one combined minutes played.


* With 20 wins, Georgia Tech has five consecutive 20-win seasons.  They are also approaching the Georgia Tech record for senior class victories - the class of Alex Montgomery and senior forward Deja Foster has won 87 games.  The leaders?  Last year's seniors who won 88 games over four years.

* MaChelle Joseph's win is her 149th.  She can get #150 in Chapel Hill on February 24th.

* This is Georgia Tech's 14th home win, which ties Joseph's record for most home wins.  I don't think any Georgia Tech team has won 15 home games - you might have to go back to the late 1970s when Jim Culpepper was head coach, but home wins are not recorded in the Georgia Tech media guide.

* For the third game in a row Georgia Tech has worn pink Nikes.  Georgia Tech is 2-1 with pink shoes, the only loss coming on the road against Florida State.