One Last Thrill

March 6, 2011

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

So much has happened in the 56 years since Alexander Memorial Coliseum first opened its doors.

Too much to properly account for in one story.

Such dignitaries as former President Jimmy Carter, the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, former Sentator Sam Nunn, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to name just a few, have spoken in the facility.

It was the place where legendary Bobby Dodd’s funeral service was held.

Talents ranging Outkast’s Big Boi to Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy’s big boy Dwight Howard, who played in the high school state championship in 2004, have performed in the building.

Four different teams came into Alexander Memorial Coliseum ranked No. 1, only to leave with an L on their ledger.

Sunday afternoon Georgia Tech men’s basketball’s finale wasn’t as grand as any of those events, but it was memorable. The Yellow Jackets rose to the occasion and put a fittingly grand cap on the tenure of Alexander Memorial Coliseum, toughing out a 66-57 win over Miami.

Iman Shumpert led the way with 19, and Tech roared back from a seven-point halftime deficit, forcing 21 turnovers, in the process. Fittingly, on Senior Day, seniors Lance Storrs and Moe Miller had a day. Storrs had 15 points, including five three-pointers (both career highs), while Miller added 14 and a game-high 5 assists.

“Obviously, this is a great way to close out the building,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “The crowd really gave us a lift, especially early in the second half. I’m very happy for Lance and Moe.”

The 2010-11 team finished the regular season 13-17 overall, 5-11 in the ACC. Georgia Tech finished its ledger 556-194 all-time at AMC. The building, which became the home of the Yellow Jackets in 1956 and earned the nickname Thrillerdome, finished a lot happier than it began, when Tech lost its debut, 71-61, to Duke.

Throughout the game fans got to re-live many of the precious memories, via video tributes.

There was the Dennis Scott three that capped an improbable 76-74 victory over North Carolina on March 1, 1989.

Personally, It was a special treat to sit next to longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Jack Wilkinson, who goes back to 1983-84 with Tech. He was able to point out the exact spot on the floor where 3D’s three took place (at that moment, the spot was unknowingly occupied by a uniformed security guard).

Wilkinson recalled the 1983-84 season under Bobby Cremins, for whom the floor is and will continue to be named, and the effect it had on him, then a lifelong New Yorker and college basketball lover who had just moved to Atlanta. He recalled being overwhelmed by the atmosphere that season and years thereafter when Alexander Memorial Coliseum was packed and booming.

“This place holding like 9,191, when [the Jackets] were really good, and it’s a big ACC game, it was as good an atmosphere as anywhere in college basketball,” Wilkinson said.

Another part of the beauty of old AMC was that there wasn’t a bad seat to see a game.

Wilkinson was especially fond of the very top row of section M, behind the East basket. He recalled a game back in the days when Georgia Tech ran from east to west in the second half. It was a game he attended, with his brother, who himself played college ball.

“We had a beautiful view of Kenny [Anderson] running the break with Brian Oliver running down the right side, and Dennis Scott going down the left, in the second half, when Tech used to go toward the home bench,” he said. “When they would be on a run, it was as loud a building as you could be in.”

The building was plenty loud that day, Feb. 1, 1990. Scott had 37 points, Oliver had 34 and Anderson dished out 17 assists as the Jackets blasted North Carolina, 102-75, the win was the worst UNC absorbed in 26 years, and springboarded Tech to the ACC championship and its first Final Four berth.

Sunday against Miami sounded as loud at times as those days.

At game’s end, the Tech players made a last lap around the court, high-fiving the students, as Auld Lang Syne played from the rafters. The band then broke into “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

(For trivia buffs, Moe Miller scored the last Tech basket on a lay-up, while the last basket at AMC came on a three from Miami forward Adrian Thomas, seconds later.)

The Yellow Jackets played Sunday as if they just weren’t going to lose, from Glen Rice getting in the face of humongous Reggie Johnson, to Storrs’ touch from three.

Then there the more mysterious events that took place. The best example was a Miami player suddenly slipping and missing an uncontested layup at one point in the second half. It just seemed like the spirits were with Tech.

There should have been plenty of them. After all, there is 56 years worth of magic hanging around.

Rest assured, those same spirits will be around when Georgia Tech basketball returns to the McCamish Pavilion for the 2012-13 season.

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