Second-Half Power Surge Falls Short

Jan. 22, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There are several ways to look at Georgia Tech’s narrow loss at Clemson Saturday, and who’s to say which one is right?

Let’s go with free throw foibles.

First, some history:

The Yellow Jackets went to halftime trailing by a mile (34-19), their offense trapped in a sub-zero freezer for the second game in a row. Yet, they came within whiskers of rallying to win, even after trailing 56-40 with 3:47 left in the game at Littlejohn Coliseum.

If only head coach Brian Gregory could bottle the energy and focus he witnessed over that span . . .

A 22-8 blitzkrieg over that time left the Jackets in arrears just 64-62, and perhaps preserved Gregory’s sanity for a few more days.

“I feel better about our performance today,” he said. “We played with a much higher intensity level than we did the other night (against Virginia).”

Rather than salt a still-festering wound, it’s best to refer to Tech’s previous game that way. Never mind specifics. If you don’t know of them already, nothing can be gained by reviewing.

The Jackets climbed back into this one nearly the same way they fell out of it in the first half: on the strength of the three-ball and the white-hot work of a single player.

Glen Rice, Jr. scored 15 of his 19 points over the game’s final 3:27, hitting three three-pointers in that time. Jason Morris and Mfon Udofia stroked long balls in that run as well.

Gregory told reporters: “Their pressure was so good on our point guards, we put the ball in Glen’s hands more in the second half and it helped us out quite a bit.

For sake of brevity, let’s say there were two problems that Tech’s bull rush was not enough to overcome: Clemson’s similarly torrid end to the first half, and the Jackets’ woes from the free throw line down the stretch of each half.

The Jackets pulled within 13-12 on Brandon Reed’s layup with 5:29 left in the first half. Despite the continued discombobulation of the offense to that point, Tech’s defense had kept the Jackets around.

Then, they lost track of Clemson guard Andre Young, and could not find the handle on either him or the ball.

The 5-foot-9 senior from Albany, Ga., scored the Tigers’ next 15 points with three consecutive treys, a jumper and a free throw, and yet another long ball. It was something to see. The little guy had a career day, literally, scoring 29 points and making 7-of-9 treys.

Clemson pulled away from that 13-12 lead with a 21-7 rush.

You might note that Clemson’s big run was, like Tech’s at the end of the game, a +14 push.

If you could wave a magic wand and wash away each team’s en fuego stretch, the score would be tied.

Nevermind that; let’s stay within those stretches since that’s where so much of the excitement was (unless you count Littlejohn’s 20-minute power outage in the first half), and zero in on the charity stripe.

Turns out, it was charitable chiefly for the Tigers.

After pulling to within 13-12, Tech turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions (the Jackets had 17 TOs in the first half).

More importantly, at least for purposes of this, Tech was 3-for-7 from the free throw line during Clemson’s closing burst.

In Tech’s late big run, the Jackets did not turn the ball over a single time, but after Udofia made a free throw to start the final 22-8 push, the Jackets made just 2-of-6 from the line in the game’s final 3:34.

Rice, for all his fine work, was 2-for-5 from the stripe over the last 1:29, and 4-for-10 in the game.

To add up the work within these two rushes — one by each team — Tech was 6-for-14 from the free throw line. The Jackets were 5-for-7 in the rest of the game.

“We’ve got to shoot better from the free throw line,” Gregory said. “That makes a huge difference.”

Then again, there are more ways to look at the game.

Tech out-rebounded Clemson 33-24, but turned the ball over nine more times than the Tigers, 22-13.

So there’s that.

The Jackets made three three-pointers in the final 38 seconds, but it wasn’t enough to finish off what would have been a remarkable rally.

Why?

Clemson scored its final three points from the free throw line, all shots by Young in the final 35 seconds.

In this one, the little guy came up big. Free throws larger still.

The little things add up . . . or draw down.

Hey, you gotta love the late spunk. Tech seems demonstrably better offensively when they throw caution to the wind and attack. You might say that style figures to lead to more turnovers, but the Jackets tend to turn the ball over in bushels when they’re trying to be deliberate. Could the turnover rate be worse than the first half (17), when the Jackets scored 19 points in 20 minutes as opposed to 22 points scored over the game’s final 3:34 (with no turnovers, BTW)?

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