#TGW: Breaking Point

Feb. 22, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

Trae Golden was in a lamentable mood Saturday afternoon for multiple reasons, none the least of which is the fact that time is running out and no matter how fast he pedals he can’t seem to slow or avert the process.

Georgia Tech’s senior guard returned to his offensive form as he scored a game-high 17 points against Clemson after scoring a total of five points in his three previous games (he missed two entirely).

Groin pulls can be debilitating.

So can be a loss like the 63-55 fall in McCamish Pavilion.

The Jackets, who just a few weeks ago battled Clemson (17-9, 8-6 ACC) with considerable vim and vigor before taking a 45-41 loss without Golden or Robert Carter Jr., led by nine points early in Saturday’s second half yet let go of their collective grip from there even while playing at home with Golden and Carter.

This may have been the toughest loss for Tech (13-14, 4-10).

It almost certainly was the most difficult for Golden, who has worked so hard on exercise bikes and at other physical therapies to get himself back into form. His five turnovers were a central part of Saturday’s theme.

“I think when I was a freshman and sophomore and junior, I guess in a selfish way, you always kind of shrug your shoulders,” he said of the pain of a loss. “But as a senior, I only have one more home game in my college career.

“Walking off the court is the toughest thing to swallow at these games, being hurt and all that. That’s the hardest thing, I think, more than anything.”

Injuries have been a bitter reality.

They factored into Saturday, when head coach Brian Gregory may have been more subdued than at any point in this season saddled with the seemingly endless frustration of maladies and personnel problems.

Tech has been so physically beat up that it has been just about impossible to gauge the program’s improvement this season over last.

The Jackets have been so beat up that they recently have struggled to conduct legitimate practices. They have played a few ACC games with just seven scholarship players available, and at times some of them were gimpy.

Kam Holsey started and played 20 minutes against Clemson, for example, but he was moderately productive with two points and four rebounds. He’s has hardly practiced recently because of a bad knee.

Carter missed all five of his shots in his fourth game back after missing 10 because of knee surgery.

And Golden, while good on 4-of-9 3-pointers, committed one third of Tech’s 15 turnovers.

Nine of those came in the second half, when Clemson outscored Tech 14-4 off turnovers. That was, to a large degree, the ball game.

The Jackets outscored Clemson 8-4 off turnovers in the first half, when the Tigers committed eight to the Jackets’ six.

A stretch came in the second half Saturday where the Jackets could barely hold onto the ball.

From the point where Marcus Georges-Hunt hit a 3-point shot to give Tech a 34-25 lead with 18:25 left in the game until Clemson took a 42-40 lead with 10:02 left, the Jackets turned the ball over seven times. The Tigers did not turn it over once in that time.

The point differential in the second half off of turnovers was 14-4 in favor of the visitors.

Yes, Clemson was more aggressive after halftime, and played with more energy. “Yeah, I would say that without reservation,” Gregory said.

The Jackets, though, helped with a run of sloppy passes and poor decisions.

In the end, Saturday’s game was another where the Jackets’ possibilities were at times evident but not constant.

Daniel Miller had 10 points and five rebounds in the first half, and the senior center scored on Tech’s first possession of the second half. Then, “We got him the ball on the first possession of the second half [for a score], and I’m not sure he got a post touch at any time after that.”

Clemson’s splendid forward K.J. McDaniels would finish with 16 points and five rebounds, but he needed 14 shots to get there and missed all five of his 3-pointers. For the second meeting in a row, the Jackets defended one of the ACC’s top all-around players quite well. McDaniels averages 17.1 and 7.2.

But Tiger guard DaMarcus Harrison got loose for 15 points (average is 6.2) and hit back-to-back treys in the second half to tie the game and put Clemson ahead for good.

The Jackets lost track of him for a bit.

Stacey Poole, Jr. packed serious energy into his five-minute stint in the first half, scoring four points while making both his shots and grabbing a rebound. He played less than one minute in the second half, though, and had a quick turnover.

The Jackets lost track of themselves in that stretch of the second half.

“The vibe got out of control a little bit,” said sophomore swing man Marcus Georges-Hunt. “We didn’t keep our composure.”

It may be impossible to be certain, but it seems likely that all of this is connected.

The Jackets have been stretched so thin for so long both in games and in practices that their breaking points have dropped — physically and in terms of patience. Gregory said that Saturday was the first time in a long time that Miller missed a couple key defensive assignments down the stretch.

The Jackets looked worn out in the second half. Their attention to detail fell overboard. Several of the turnovers were borderline inexplicable.

“I’m not sure, [but] there’s got to be a mental fatigue,” Gregory said. “Probably there is a little bit of physical . . . It’s been hard because we really haven’t been able to practice. When you have that many [turnovers] in that amount of time, there’s probably a lot of different reasons.

“One could be them pressuring the ball, the other could be a lazy cut, another could be a one-handed pass . . . maybe not reading the situation on a couple plays. I think it was a multitude of sins that created those. If it was just one thing, it would be a lot easier to figure out.”

Tech is tired, and it shows. This is most obvious when games are tight late.

Clemson took its first lead in the second half when reserve forward Josh Smith rebounded a free throw missed by teammate Landry Nnoko even though two Jackets had better position aside the lane with 10:02 to go.

“We don’t inherently have the consistency and the toughness, both mental toughness and physical toughness, you need to win all those games,” Gregory said. “We’ve probably won 30 or 40 percent. When you’re good, you win 80 percent of those.

“Clemson has won those, and that’s why they are 8-6 in the league.”

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