Dec. 19, 2007
By Jack Wilkinson –
Ali-Frazier, it’s not. Then again, what is? Yet once again, for the third time in five seasons, Georgia Tech and Kansas conjured something riveting and Roman numeral-worthy. Rambling Wreck-Rock Chalk III? What it lacked in significance, it more than made up for in drama.
And, for Paul Hewitt, in disappointment.
“I thought we were going to win the game,” the Tech coach said in the aftermath of Tuesday night’s 71-66 loss. If so, Hewitt was in the vast minority at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, where the Jackets were playing for the first time in 39 days, just the second time all season.
Indeed, Tech had played more games in Nashville (two) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (three) than it had on its own court. The Jackets hadn’t played at all in the previous 12 days, after barely surviving 72-67 at Georgia State. Now came Kansas, unbeaten and ranked No. 3.
And yet here was Hewitt, feeling…confident? Yes. Why?
“Because we are a good team.”
Yet not good enough to win on a night when Kansas, leading by 13 points with 5:00 to play, then still up eight with 1:04 left, saw its lead dwindle to a single point with 9.2 seconds remaining.
“I don’t take anything away from Kansas,” Hewitt said, “but we did it to ourselves again. We had a two-on-nothing breakaway and didn’t score. You can’t blow as many opportunities as we did against a quality opponent. They are a good basketball team; a very well-coached team. They executed very well and have great size, but we can’t do some of the things we did and expect to be a good basketball team.
“We’re a talented team, but not a good basketball team,” he said. “There’s a difference.”
This wasn’t an NCAA regional final, like that sweet Sunday in St. Louis in 2004. The day Jarrett Jack lit up the dome for 29 points to beat Kansas 79-71 in overtime and send Tech on to San Antonio and its second Final Four.
This wasn’t the following New Year’s Day in Lawrence, Kan., in hallowed Allen Fieldhouse, when Jack torched the Jayhawks for 26 points and Tech led by as many as 16 points in the first half. But then B.J. Elder crumbled with a pulled hamstring, Kansas prevailed 70-68 in overtime and Tech was never the same that season.
This night didn’t loom as dramatic. Not with Kansas averaging 85 points through its first 10 victories and winning by an average of 26.4 points. And not with Tech splitting its first eight games, losing at Indiana and Vanderbilt before outlasting out-manned Georgia State.
Bill Self knew better. “I expected it to be a close game,” said the Kansas coach, “but I didn’t expect it to go down to the wire when we were up 13, or 10 with five or whatever it was. But I expected it. I told our guys that they were going to make a run…
“We knew Morrow and Clinch could make good shots, and they did,” Self said of Anthony Morrow, who had 12 points, and Lewis Clinch, who led Tech with 22. “We knew [Jeremis] Smith was a beast inside, strength-wise, and he proved that to be true [with 9 rebounds, 4 offensive].”
What Self didn’t anticipate was D’Andre Bell playing often, and well, at the point, scoring 7 points. Or Matt Causey (9 points) hitting two last-minute shots, a 3-pointer and then a follow that cut Kansas’ lead to 67-64. Or Mario Chalmers missing the front end of a 1-and-1 after Causey’s 3-ball, or Russell Robinson clanking two free throws with 32.1 seconds to play.
But after Morrow’s pair cut it to 67-66, Sherron Collins hit two foul shots. Self used his last timeout with 8.2 seconds left and a 3-point lead. Self chose not to foul. He didn’t have to. Zack Peacock caught the inbounds pass and looked toward the middle of the court, for the streaking Causey.
Instead, the pass was errant, and stolen. When Collins hit the breakaway layup, time and Tech-Kansas III had expired.
“We were fortunate to win that game,” Self said. “They [the Jackets] are going to get better. There is no doubt.”
“We just have to realize we are a good team and not have that glazed-over look that we have sometimes,” said Hewitt, whose team hosts Centenary Saturday. “We do it to ourselves, but again that’s not to take anything away from Kansas. People can make all the judgments about what we have in our locker room, but we are a good basketball team. When we lose games like this, most of the time we do it to ourselves…
“Now Centenary becomes that game. The turning point,” he said. “In my heart and mind, I thought this was the turning point game. I thought this would get us right and we would show what we are capable of. Now we have to rack it up again on Saturday.”