ATLANTA — Coach Paul Hewitt can only hope Georgia Tech’s free-throw shooting doesn’t get any worse.
"We just have to keep working at it," he said. "That’s all you can do. We shoot 50-100 every day, and it can become a mental thing, which may be the case now."
Alade Aminu scored 19 points and Gani Lawal had 15 points with 12 rebounds to help Georgia Tech hold off Jacksonville’s late charge in a 79-76 victory on Friday night.
Ben Smith’s 30 points led Jacksonville, which went on a 33-13 run to trail 77-74 with 40.8 seconds remaining, but his effort wasn’t enough to keep the Dolphins (0-5) from avoiding their worst start since 1996-97.
Poor free-throw shooting nearly buried the Yellow Jackets (4-0). Ranked 312th before the game with a 59.0 percentage from the line, Georgia Tech hit just 7 of 14 in the final 1:21 to finish 22-for-39.
"I think it’s more of a mental thing than it is working on free throws," Aminu said after going 1-for-1 from the line and 9-for-12 from the field.
"I think we should use our energy into focusing more instead of shooting more free throws. That will get corrected, and that will take care of that."
With Aminu standing 6-foot-10, Lawal at 6-foot-9 and Zach Peacock at 6-foot-8, the Jackets used a considerable advantage in size to outscore the Dolphins 36-20 in the paint.
Jacksonville’s biggest player, 6-foot-10 reserve center Szymon Lukasiak played only 13 minutes and didn’t score, but the Dolphins’ front line of Marcus Allen, Lehmon Colbert and Ayron Hardy had difficulty matching up with an average height of 6-foot-6.
"It can be easy to get lax knowing that you can score at will inside, but as you can see, when you get lax, stuff like that happens," Aminu said.
"I believe you have to respect the game and play hard every night no matter who comes out on that floor."
Smith hit 8 of 13 attempts on 3-pointers to pace the Dolphins’ best game this season beyond the arc. At tipoff, Jacksonville was shooting 21.5 percent on 3-pointers, sixth-worst in the nation.
"I do appreciate our team’s effort and fight," said Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren, a former Georgia Tech assistant under Hewitt. "In our last couple of games, our turnovers have been dead-ball turnovers. Our defense has been good, and our full-court pressure has been good, so we’ve been able to get some stops. I think when we tried to attack the basket, we turned the ball over. Ben Smith had too many (seven) tonight, and Georgia Tech did a great job of taking those turnovers and going to score the other way."