#TGW: Benched!

Dec. 16, 2014

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory knew that Monday night’s game against Appalachian State was going to be a tough one even before his team hit the floor at McCamish Pavilion.

It was the dreaded first game after Finals Week.

Gregory had seen it before. Fortunately, he also has become an expert at getting his teams to navigate through. Monday night would be no exception, as getting a large contribution off the bench and a key dose of leadership from Marcus Georges-Hunt, the Jackets did earned a 70-57 victory in a game that wasn’t that close.

“Everybody knows that old adage that the first game after finals at Tech is always sluggish,” said Gregory, whose Yellow Jackets teams are now 4-0 in such games. “It kind of started out that way, but that’s where those other guys gave us a boost and gave us energy. When the starters went back in, it just kind of continued to flow.”

Forward Robert Sampson just missed his first double-double as a Yellow Jacket, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds, and guard Tadric Jackson added 12 points, as Tech’s bench outscored State’s, 32-10, and allowed the Jackets to finally shake the stubborn Mountaineers, and avoid falling into the trap that beset Virginia Tech, which lost to App. State, 65-63, in Blacksburg on Nov. 22.

“We didn’t get off to a great start, went to our bench, and those guys really responded well,” said Gregory. “Robert Sampson in particular, has been playing well for us and did a really good job tonight. We got good minutes out of Corey Heyward and Ben Lammers as well. Those guys really gave us a big lift and Chris Bolden has been playing better.”

The Yellow Jackets, who had to wait eight days to get back on the court and rid themselves of the aftertaste of being stunned by USC Upstate, while also going through Finals Week, had four double-digit scorers, led by starters Marcus Georges-Hunt’s 15, all in the first half, and 13 from Demarco Cox, in addition to Sampson and Jackson.

Sampson helped make a huge impact on the boards, as he grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, and spearheaded a relentlessness on the boards, where Tech had a 35-23 edge, 13-3 off the offensive glass). He and Jackson contributed to a key 9-0 run that jumpstarted the Jackets. Then, with the game tied at 17, Georges-Hunt took over.

He scored 11 points and added an assist in a decisive half-closing 19-8 run that gave the Jackets a 36-25 halftime lead. They wouldn’t really be challenged again. Gregory credited Georges-Hunt for taking another step in his growth into the kind of leader that Gregory expects on a nightly basis.

“That was big that he kind of took over that game in that eight-minute stretch. We needed that,” said Gregory. “I have been challenging him a lot lately in practice. He’s an unbelievable kid, so that kind of aggressiveness and leadership is out of his comfort zone a little bit but we need that. I think he’s starting to get it. It’s kind of a process. He’s an intelligent kid, and I think that he’s earned the respect of everybody. So that leadership role is going to continue to increase.”

When Georges-Hunt had to sit due to foul trouble in the second half (he played nine minutes), Sampson, Jackson and the entire bench came through, breaking open the game and helping Tech open a 21-point lead.

Jackson had a tremendous stretch midway through the second half, when, up by 11, he had a part in nine consecutive Yellow Jackets points (an assist and seven points), to push the lead to 20. He left with the lead at 15. It wouldn’t get below that until a couple of cosmetic baskets at the end.

While Jackson shot 4-for-11, 1-for-7 from three, Gregory is encouraged with his freshman guard’s development and likes where he’s headed.

“His percentages aren’t great right now. I’m OK with that. At times he takes some tough shots. I’m OK with that because he’s good offensively,” he said. “What we need to do is just work on the daily habits of being disciplined offensively and he’s going to continue to blossom. We need to keep working on the defensive end with him. He’s going to be a heck of a player. I think he’s got some growth he can do right now, and if he does it’s only going to make us better.” The Jackets can get better, especially from three-point range, as they’re shooting .155 (7-for-45) over their last three games.

Gregory is keeping positive in that facet of the game, pointing to the team’s ability to get open looks, even though they’re not falling at the moment.

“We’ve got to keep shooting those. You just have to keep putting in the time, getting our shots up,” he said. “The thing is, even if you miss those, it’s an open shot. To get an open shot means you’ve broken down the defense. Broken down defenses don’t rebound. So we have to be aggressive and keep taking those shots. If we can start knocking down a couple of shots, we can get so much better offensively.”

Ideally that will be soon, as the Jackets face a challenging stretch closing out the 2014 portion of their schedule and heading into ACC play. Of their next seven games, three are against ranked teams or teams receiving votes (home and home with Notre Dame, and at Dayton). That includes the opening of ACC play, where Tech has the games with the Fighting Irish, hosts Syracuse and visits Wake Forest. There also are games with 6-2 Vanderbilt, who is in Atlanta Saturday, Charlotte, which gave No. 17 Miami all it could handle and follows Vandy into McCamish, and the game at Dayton.

Monday night was a good start.

“I thought we did some really good things,” said Gregory. “We need to continue to improve so this was a good step for us.”

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