Georgia Tech now has Golden touch as it faces Pitt in ACC contest
When Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory talks about how his Yellow Jackets have had to “reinvent ourselves with some of the injuries we've had,” Pitt's Jamie Dixon can relate.
The No. 22 Panthers (15-1, 3-0 ACC) will visit Georgia Tech (10-6, 1-2) at 9 p.m. Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta without one of their key players. Redshirt sophomore sharpshooter Durand Johnson was lost for the season to a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee.
The Yellow Jackets are still adjusting to the absence of 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Robert Carter Jr., who is out indefinitely after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee late last month. Carter was averaging 10.3 points and an ACC-best 9.3 rebounds.
After losing its first two ACC games — at Maryland and at Duke — Georgia Tech is coming off a 74-69 victory over Notre Dame in which the Yellow Jackets were led by a player familiar to Pitt.
Trae Golden, a 6-foot-2 senior point guard, scored 20 points and made a pivotal 3-pointer in the final minute against the Irish. Golden played for Tennessee two years ago against Pitt, scoring 12 points and dishing six assists before making a costly turnover by getting tied up with Ashton Gibbs for a jump ball in the final four seconds of a 61-56 loss.
“We know how explosive he is,” Dixon said. “We know he's obviously the key to their team, his ability to get in the lane and drive.”
Gregory goes further, noting that Golden not only leads the Yellow Jackets in scoring at 13.1 points a game but also shows a work ethic that immediately earned the respect of his coaches and teammates, who voted him captain after only six weeks on campus.
“I think they're going as well as anybody can expect and maybe beyond expectations,” said Gregory, who is in his third season at Georgia Tech. “I remember him as a high school player, seeing him on the circuit, and I always thought he was a very talented player, had great toughness and could really score the ball from the point guard position. When opportunity presented itself to bring him back home, I thought it was a win-win situation for both of us.”
Pitt also will be looking toward a newcomer to fill Johnson's void, although the Panthers will be counting on a freshman. Chris Jones, a 6-5 swingman who redshirted last season, is the most likely candidate to see increased playing time. But freshman point guard Josh Newkirk has played well and could see his role elevated.
Gregory has a great respect for the Panthers, who are tied with Syracuse and Virginia for first place in the conference.
“We have a great team in Pitt coming in, but not just a great team but Jamie's done an unbelievable job in building one of the best programs in the country,” Gregory said. “He does a tremendous job of tweaking each team for its personnel, but there's some common objectives and standards that every one of his teams have: They're great defensively. They're extremely tough. They rebound well and move and shoot the ball extremely well.”
Just how well without Johnson remains to be seen.