Dec. 11, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
The good news was split into halves Saturday afternoon in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, where Georgia Tech beat Savannah State 69-59 while deploying split personalities that left one to wonder: if these guys can get it together for two halves, mightn’t they be pretty good?
Alas, there were fractures.
Basketball is a game of ebb and flow, but this one was more like the tortoise and the hare.
The Yellow Jackets (5-4) played both roles because, really, Savannah State was a background character, albeit one who spoke up beyond the script – in part because the Yellow Jackets gave them voice.
The Tigers (1-10) trailed 44-26 at halftime, yet cut the Tech lead to 63-57 in the last minute ostensibly because in the second half only freshman center Daniel Miller consistently did right. Coincidentally, after scoring just four of his career-high 14 points and grabbing one rebound in the first half, he was just about the only starter who in that time did not come close to matching what’s expected of him.
“I’ve had a problem being aggressive,” Miller said. “I thought [coach Paul Hewitt] was going to pull me out.”
Fortunately, Iman Shumpert was in attack mode, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the first half, when he also grabbed eight rebounds and three steals. Mo Miller moved into Glen Rice Jr.’s spot in the starting lineup and he, Mfon Udofia and Brian Oliver combined to make 8 of 12 shots, including all three 3-point attempts, in the first half as the Jackets controlled the game.
In neither half did the Jackets rebound as well against the smaller Tigers as they had a right to expect, and that was a glaring problem in the second half.
Daniel Miller grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots, scored 10 points and had a steal after intermission, but the other four starters combined to make just 3 of 17 shots in the second half, when the Tigers out-rebounded Tech 25-16 and made 6 of 11 3-point shots.
In the final 20 minutes, Tech players other than Daniel Miller grabbed just eight rebounds.
There was a compounding effect to the starters’ second-half struggles (save D. Miller); Tech’s bench did not score a point Saturday, missing all nine shots taken in the game.
Daniel Miller hit two free throws for a 51-31 lead with 16:01 left in the game, and the young Tigers of astute coach Horace Broadnax (a former attorney who was a point guard on Georgetown’s 1984 national championship team) then got in the Jackets’ faces with a 13-0 run spun off of pressure defense.
That started with three consecutive 3-pointers (not on consecutive possessions, though). Tech did not grab a rebound in that sequence as Savannah State grabbed five.
When the Jackets pushed the lead back up to 15 points, there was a temptation to look at what had just happened as a hiccup.
But the Tigers were the hiccup.
They scored just 10 points in the paint in the entire game, but they were sticking jumpers and when they put together a 10-1 run that included two treys and two more jumpers, they trailed 63-57 with 52 seconds left in the game.
Savannah State shooters kept wiggling free off screens, a problem the Jackets have had through the first one-third of the season. Udofia said, “we were missing [defensive] switches,” and Daniel Miller said, “We haven’t seen a lot of teams with that much movement.”
When it was over, Udofia seemed disgusted in the post-game, and with good reason.
The Jackets turned the ball over just six times to Savannah State’s 22, and made 16 more free throws than the Tigers.
Yet within the final minute, the visitors were every bit in the game largely because a recurring problem – 3-point defense – had reared its head and too many Jackets laid off the glass. Savannah State made 9 of 18 treys. Meanwhile, Tech missed all six long ball tries after intermission.
Tech’s still looking for its mesh. The Jackets appeared more talented than the Tigers, and a good bit bigger. But they had to hold on because earlier they had let go.
“You want to kill a team with a sledgehammer,” Udofia said after the Jackets did not. “It comes with pride.”