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Hokie Hex No More

Feb. 9, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Mission No. 1 Saturday in Blacksburg, Va., where Georgia Tech had never won a basketball game, was to hit the glass.

That wasn’t all that the Yellow Jackets clubbed on the way to a 64-54 win that was not as close as that score. Georgia Tech clobbered Virginia Tech just about every which way, meeting that main challenge by out-rebounding the Hokies, 46-32.

Four weeks ago, Virginia Tech won in Atlanta with a 43-32 rebounding edge. So these guys have memories. You can see, too, that they’re developing better habits. After being out-rebounded in their first three ACC games, the Jackets have out-rebounded or drawn even on the boards with six of seven conference foes since.

This program is being built upon a grimy foundation. Brian Gregory has ideas. He wants the Jackets to operate as if they’re proud to scuff their knuckles and get a little grime under their nails, to play basketball as a contact sport not a show of grace.

Let’s see; Kam Holsey, Robert Carter Jr. and Marcus Georges-Hunt had nine rebounds each and Daniel Miller added seven while blocking two shots. Those four out-rebounded Virginia Tech by themselves.

The Georgia Tech coach has said that rebounding is about “want to.”

The Jackets got what they wanted in Blacksburg, where the program was previously 0-7, against a team against whom Georgia Tech had been 4-14 overall. They held the Hokies to 30.6 percent shooting.

“Our focus on what we needed to get done was tremendous . . . We did a good job of rebounding the ball,” Gregory told Wes Durham, the voice of the Jackets, after the game. “Every miss they had, we seemed to get the rebound. That was a big point of emphasis because they killed us on the boards last time.”

Point taken.

It’s hard to lose with that kind of rebounding edge, especially when you allow your opponent just five offensive rebounds in a game where they missed 43 shots and a few more free throws.

And there’s this: Virginia Tech shot just 19-for-62 thanks to grimy defense and Gregory’s decision to pay a little extra attention to the nation’s leading scorer, but just a little.

He didn’t want his team to get out of whack chasing Hokies guard Erick Green, and the Jackets did not go astray.

Green scored 28 points on 9-for-20 shooting. His teammates were 10-for-42. That’s 23.8 percent shooting by the players who took 67.7 percent of the Hokies’ shots.

That’s good math . . . for the Jackets.

“We’re making progress,” Gregory told Durham. “We just need to tighten some things up.”

These guys have met most challenges this season, actually, but they haven’t always defeated them. The Jackets have moved in fits and starts, and so it was Saturday for a bit before Georgia Tech launched with gale force into the best stretch of basketball played by lads in Jackets jerseys in quite some time.

After nobody scored for the first 3:15, the visitors went on a 13-1 run. They led 31-10 when Miller made a nice interior pass to Holsey for a point-blank bucket with 3:30 left in the first half. Holsey scored all 13 of his points in the first half, playing like a pogo stick in the paint.

Georgia Tech led 37-18 at halftime.

“We moved the ball extremely well on offense. We really struggled against their zone the first [game]. We didn’t this time,” Gregory told Durham. “Maybe as good a half as we’ve played at both ends of the court.”

The Jackets stretched the lead to 25 points (47-22) in the second half.

On a day when the Jackets had a modest 10 turnovers, Georges-Hunt finished with 13 points like Holsey, and the bench that the head coach grumbled a bit about after Tuesday’s loss to FSU (even though their numbers were comparable to starters relative to minutes played) was big.

Tech point guard Mfon Udofia struggled shooting the ball, and played just 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Freshman Soloman Poole, however, played the most effective 17 minutes of his young career, and shooting guard Brandon Reed complimented he and Holsey with nine points, four rebounds, four assists and a steal.

It was like everybody had a role, knew it, and hit even the high notes.

“We need those guys [off the bench], and I thought Soloman was thrown into some tough situations because of foul trouble, and he did a really good job,” Gregory said. “He’s got a lot to learn, but you’ve got to admit, one thing he’s got is guts and he ain’t afraid to try to make plays, and you can live with that.”

This team has not been blown out, and after losing their first five ACC games, they’ve won three of five, fallen at the buzzer in one and dropped another by one possession on the road.

Like the boss said, they’re making progress.

Fittingly, Durham’s post-game interview with Gregory apparently was done in some sort of a custodial closet as you can see here. The Jackets are working.

Note the ladder in the background. It’s used for climbing.

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