#STINGDAILY: Protect This Ball

Jan. 22, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

If there is no crying in baseball, neither is there sympathy in ACC basketball where Georgia Tech’s first four league opponents have been the teams in first place, second, third and tied for fourth.

Tonight, as the Yellow Jackets (10-6, 0-4 ACC) play at North Carolina (12-5, 2-2), which is also tied for fourth, Tech coach Brian Gregory will not look for quarter. He would, however, like more of the best from a couple worlds that tend to collide.

Gregory values the energy that his younger players bring to the game, but he would prefer they leave part of their youth behind. Put another way, hang onto the ball.

Tech deployed just seven players at Duke the last time out, and while starting three freshmen – Robert Carter Jr., Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden – for the first time and playing a fourth (Solomon Poole), the Jackets had a season-high 21 turnovers.

There were signs aplenty of what Gregory’s looking for, especially in a first half where Tech built a 28-27 lead. Alas, there also was considerable evidence of what he feared: Duke out-scored Tech 28-5 off turnovers in a 73-57 win.

The freshmen were responsible for 11 of the turnovers on the stat sheet, although some of the others were partly attributable to mistakes they made off the ball.

Gregory made the decision to push pace more in that game than in the Jackets’ first three ACC games with the idea of jump-starting an offense that has languished in league play. These Jackets, though, are not yet gifted enough at scoring, nor at grabbing offensive rebounds when they miss shots, to give the ball away so much.

It is, as one might say, a fine line.

“You can’t have empty possessions . . . our desire to be aggressive with the ball led to us maybe not making good decisions,” the coach said. “Young players have to understand . . . there is a responsibility of making good decisions.”

Bolden scored 20 points in his first start. That was the most scored by a Tech player in a game this season. That’s the good part, and the residue of design and practice.

“I didn’t think he was aggressive enough over that Christmas break time,” Gregory said. “I kind of challenged him a little bit, and we showed him some film, some areas where we thought he could be more aggressive and he needed to me more aggressive. We need that because that perimeter scoring gives us a boost.”

At first glance, points may not be as critical at North Carolina as in many seasons as the Tar Heels have not been the offensive juggernaut we’re accustomed to seeing. Their average of 62.5 points per ACC games ranks fifth in league play, and is well below the norm for teams coached by Roy Williams.

UNC junior Reggie Bulloch averages 17.3 points per ACC game and sophomore James Michael McAdoo adds 14.3, and together that’s almost exactly half the Tar Heels’ points. Yet North Carolina rebounds like mad to help make up for mistakes.

That’s been an issue for Tech.

“They’re such a great rebounding team. They can get themselves out of trouble in terms of missing shots,” Gregory said. “Their perimeter guys do a great job going to the glass. They’re big. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams not just in the league, but in the country.”

Chances are Gregory will again go with a short rotation, although there is no guarantee it will be as tight as seven. It is a sure thing that the Jackets need to tie up some loose ends to compete, and they’re going to need some offense from Daniel Miller, Carter, Kammeon Holsey and even others in the paint to better balance their equation.

Rebound, and, “We need to take care of the ball,” said Gregory, whose team had but seven assists at Duke. “We need to be aggressive on offense in terms of getting the ball inside, and in transition attacking the basket.”

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