#TGW: Strength in Numbers

Dec. 16, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– After each of the first eight games of the 2015-16 season, Georgia Tech’s opposing coaches sang a similar refrain about the difficulty of playing the Yellow Jackets — how the bigs came at them in waves.

Tuesday night made it nine-for-nine, as VCU coach Will Wade joined the chorus of believers. But following Tech’s 77-64 victory over the Rams at McCamish Pavilion, the waves effect wasn’t limited to the power forwards and centers.

On Tuesday night the guards and wings got into the act.

Five of them, Josh Heath, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Adam Smith, Tadric Jackson and Quinton Stephens, banded together and, one-by-one, got up in the shirt of VCU sharpshooter Melvin Johnson and stayed there for 40 minutes.

Their version of havoc, VCU’s trademark, threw the senior guard off his game enough to lift the Jackets.

“We were well prepared by the staff and those guys bought into the game plan,” said Jackets’ coach Brian Gregory, who celebrated his birthday with a win that moved his team to 7-2. “We changed up some of our coverages on Melvin Johnson because he’s such a special player — and even at the end all he did was prove it. But, we made him take 17 shots to get 17 points. So, the guys followed the game plan that the assistants put together to a ‘T.’”

The plan was to keep throwing fresh bodies at Johnson and provide as many variations of defense as possible.

“We had a lot of different guys switching on him, just keeping guys fresh, guys coming in and trying to stay on his toes because we know he’s a great shooter and he makes a lot of big time shots,” said guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, who, in addition to helping suffocate Johnson, scored a game-high 20 points, going 11-for-12 from the line. “You just try to throw a lot — size, quickness, physicality — just throw different things at him.”

The plan worked as Johnson never got into a rhythm. The senior from the Bronx, who torched Florida State on Dec. 6 for a career-high 36 points, including scoring 14 straight to close the game, hit back-to-back shots only one time, a jumper and a three, the latter in transition, early in the first half.

“They did a good job on Melvin [Johnson] and made him take some tough looks — tougher looks than he normally takes,” said Wade. “They really crowded him and made him come further out on ball screens. They wanted other folks to beat us. Melvin’s our best player, and we run a lot of stuff for him, and teams are going to force other folks to beat them. Georgia Tech did a good job. They crowded him and had two guys on him most of the time. They really made him work for it.”

Johnson still scored 17 points, but that was nearly a three-pointer below his 19.9 points per game average coming in. He hit three three-point field goals, down one from his 4.13 per-game average, which ranked second in the nation. His .333 shooting (6-for-17) was 100 points below his season average and his .300 from three (3-for-10) was 178 points off his per-game production.

“BG constantly talked about ‘Melvin, Melvin, Melvin’ in practice,” said Jackson. “‘Extra ball screens,’ ‘Double help on him, especially in the corners,’ ‘Don’t relax away from the ball.’ ‘Every time he catches the ball just stay in on him the whole time.’ Like Marcus said, we had guys coming in fresh, Me, Marcus, Adam, Josh to come in to guard him. So we could stay fresh to guard him.”

As the game went on, the Jackets’ rotating defenders stayed fresh while Johnson wore down. He shot 2-for-9 in the second half, made only one of his final seven shots and didn’t score over the final 5:00, going 0-for-4, as Tech put the game away.

The Jackets’ guards also chipped in offensively. In addition to Georges-Hunt, Heath had a season-high 12 points and Stephens hit threes on consecutive possessions six minutes into the final 20 to extend a three-point lead to nine. Jackson shot only 1-for-7, but had four assists, including a heads-up one with 3:44 remaining, where he passed up his own good look from three-point range to get the ball to Georges-Hunt, whose three-pointer blew open the game to 13.

“I thought that was probably the best all-around game that Tadric Jackson has played,” said Gregory. “He didn’t shoot the ball well, had some good looks, but defensively understanding what we were doing. Defensive rebounding, four assists.

“We’ve talked about our depth,” he added. “We’ve talked about guys being able to step up when their number is called. We were shorthanded today without Travis [Jorgenson] and our guys did exactly that. I’m really happy with the way we played and the way we competed. It’s a good win for us.”

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