March 10, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
If there were a hall of great games in one of the nearby Smithsonian museums, Georgia Tech’s work of Wednesday night would not land there. This was too over the top for that, and much of the contest was flat-out hideous anyway.
The Yellow Jackets were utterly routed and scored a great win in the same game, and that’s more rare. Trailing by 18 points with less than nine minutes left, and they won in the second round of the ACC Tournament?
Yes, the men’s 88-85 overtime win over Clemson in the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. was real, and will ever rest in head coach Brian Gregory’s heart.
His role in the locker room celebration made a perfect TV trailer for March Madness, and a loop for the ages for the Old Gold & White — complete with dabbing by all involved.
As the coach says in the video, “we’re still in this fight,” because with a 7 p.m. game tonight against No. 4 Virginia (24-6, 13-5), the Jackets (19-13, 8-10 ACC) have NCAA Tournament life after winning six of their past seven.
With Marcus Georges-Hunt (28 points, six rebounds, six assists, one turnover) and Adam Smith (23 points) nearby during post-game interviews, the coach made it clear that the Jackets’ second straight win over the Tigers – after Clemson (17-14, 10-8) had beaten Tech 12 of 13 times – made his short list.
“Yeah, 26 years [in coaching] . . . definitely as a head coach. I’ve never seen anything like that,” the coach said. “But these two guys up here . . . I can say stuff during the timeout. If these guys don’t believe it, it doesn’t matter. That’s been the biggest difference with this year’s team.
“Even when things weren’t going well, these guys kept believing in the coaching staff and the system and the purpose for why we were doing things. That showed up.”
This was a script torn up and re-written in a hurry: Woody Allen vs. The Rock, with Woody pulling himself up from the canvas, bloodied, broken and drawers drooping only to stagger and knock down the bully.
Tech’s 19th win deserves a wing of its own, and speaking of wings, how about converted point guard Georges-Hunt?
One of the most accomplished and simultaneously quiet all-around players in program history, he delivered a statue-worthy performance. He scored 19 of his game-high 28 points in the final 8:46, winning the day by plowing away.
Having scored a modest four points in the first half and not much more over the first 10-plus minutes of the second, Tech’s recently minted coach on the floor took to heart the council of his teammates. Then, he lowered a shoulder and attacked the basket as if trying to knock down a wall with repetition.
It worked. He went to the free throw line 16 times and made 15, including six straight in the final 1:10 of regulation.
His freebies with 13 seconds left forced overtime.
“My teammates were just telling me I got to go, I got to be in attack mode . . . I didn’t go to the free-throw line in the first half. I was thinking, I have to attack, attack, attack.”
He had help.
This uncommon win was built upon a 46-28 rebounding edge. That’s the purpose Gregory was talking about. It wasn’t the defense, not on Wednesday.
Clemson scored 40 points in each half, and made 10 3-point shots. Yet Tech stymied the Tigers late, and the Jackets stopped coughing it up. They had 10 turnovers in the first half to trail 40-31 at the break.
They turned it over just twice over the final 25 minutes. Smith scored 16 in the second half, making 3-of-5 3-pointers among several heavily contested shots, and Georges-Hunt scored 22.
“We ran a lot of stagger screens, things like that,” Smith said. “We were in the bonus early as well. We tried to get as much contact as we could, get to the line, just knock ‘em down.”
That they did.
Tech went 1-of-2 from the free throw line in the first half, 19-of-25 in the second half, and 2-of-2 in overtime (Georges-Hunt).
Among the disparities, another quiet Jacket made consecutive scores that may have been as important as any.
Smith soon missed a jumper, and Nick Jacobs (12 points, six rebounds) tried to put it back. His miss rolled left off the rim, where White gathered from an awkward angle under and behind the goal. He snaked the ball up and in, though, to give the Jackets a lead they wouldn’t lose.
After Jaron Blossomgame’s free throw for Clemson, White again converted an offensive rebound into points for an 84-81 lead. Off the bench, he made all four of his shots, scoring eight points, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking a shot.
“We have a great senior class. I thought James White was a huge difference in the game,” Gregory said. “His athletic ability and ability to get to the class was incredible. A total team effort.”
Everybody pitched in on this one.
Quinton Stephens added seven rebounds, three assists and just enough defense on Blossomgame when he shot to tie and missed with 19 seconds in overtime.
Tadric Jackson had a rebound, an assists and two steals.
Ben Lammers scored two points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot.
Josh Heath played the point just enough to get Georges-Hunt three minutes of rest out of 45, and in another 10 minutes of action he contested the failed corner jumper by Clemson’s Avry Holmes that allowed the game to creep into overtime, and added four points and an assist.
From there, White triggered Tech.
His parents watched on TV back home in Georgia, yet Wednesday was a family affair for the Jackets and White on the court, in the locker room and in the stands.
Otis White grew up in Quantico, Va., and Linda White is from Richmond. Plenty of kin made the trip to the Verizon Center, where the Jackets practically spilled blood together to steal an epic win.
“Coach just tells me to stay ready, to make a play. I wasn’t surprised,” White said. “A lot of people from my family were here. This is actually their first time so this is a big thing for me, a lot of uncles, aunts and cousins. This was big, very big.”