Feb. 15, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– He’d prefer to do his work quietly, anonymously. Richard Stewart may not have that luxury anymore.
As momentum has mounted again for Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6 ACC), so too have the injuries, which has suddenly thrust Stewart, the Jackets’ 10th-year athletic trainer for men’s basketball, into a front-and-center role this week.
The man who occupies the last spot on Tech’s bench has become a busy man lately. Senior Quinton Stephens remains questionable for Wednesday’s game against Miami with a sprained ankle. Junior Ben Lammers missed practice Monday with an ankle sprain. Senior Josh Heath is coming off a sprained ankle against Tusculum. Josh Okogie is battling tendonitis in right knee. Freshman Justin Moore missed two games with an abdominal injury before returning against Boston College.
The Jackets will try to muster enough health Wednesday to continue their two-game road winning streak against the Hurricanes (16-8, 6-6 ACC), who are tied with them for ninth in the league standings. Here are the five best notes from my chart in preparation for Wednesday’s contest in Coral Gables (8 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Those tender ankles may get a stress test against Miami, which runs an unending supply of ball screens for its guards. Slips, pick-and-pops, roll-and-replaces – they’ll all be there for the Hurricanes, who get strong guard play from 6-6 senior Davon Reed (15.5 ppg, 41 pct. 3pt.), “attack guard” Ja’Quan Newton (15.0 ppg) and athletic freshman Bruce Brown (11.7 ppg). Can the Jackets communicate well in their ball screen coverages and prevent the ‘Canes from putting them on skates? The Hurricanes can be prone to lapses in discipline – they rank last in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Pastner also says defensive transition and guard rebounding will be key. Despite a lack of interior depth, Miami hammers the boards hard – in ACC play, only North Carolina offensive-rebounds at a higher rate than the Hurricanes (34.7 percent).
Offensive Rebounding Percentage – ACC
1. North Carolina – .423
2. Miami – .347
On the other end, Pastner says the Jackets have slacked lately from their own offensive rebounding. In the win over Boston College, only Ben Lammers grabbed an offensive board. Can Tech chop into Miami’s rebounding edge by moving the ball to the second and third side (i.e. swinging the ball from one side of the floor to the other multiple times in a possession), thus preventing the ‘Canes from taking predictable angles to the glass?
Winning on the road requires players to dig deep, and nobody has embodied that more than senior Quinton Stephens. Excluding the Boston College game, when an ankle injury limited him to five minutes, check out the jump in production when Stephens plays on the road:
Quinton Stephens PPG RPG 3pt.%
Home (15 games)* 8.9 7.9 23.8%
Road (9 games) 13.3 8.6 44.2%
*-Excludes Boston College
Stephens may have to grit through a sprained ankle to continue that play tonight.
Jim Larrañaga, Miami’s sixth-year head coach, attended the same New York City high school, Archbishop Molloy, as Tech great Kenny Anderson. He also has a connection to current Tech guard Josh Heath – and in true guard fashion, it involves an assist. Heath’s Dad, Stan, served as an assistant for Larrañaga at Bowling Green from 1994-96 (Josh was born two months into Stan’s first season there. Naturally, he was born on a game day). After Larrañaga left to accept the head coaching position at George Mason, Heath looked to latch on to Tom Izzo’s staff at Michigan State.
As the story goes, Izzo had narrowed his search to two candidates – neither of whom was Heath. Larrañaga insisted Izzo give his former assistant a look. At the same time, he recommended that Heath make one last unorthodox sales pitch to Izzo.
“I told him to get a mannequin and break off the right arm. Then get a long stem red rose box. Put the right arm in the box and Fed Ex it to him with a note — “Coach Izzo I’d give my right arm to be on your staff and if you hire me I will help you win a national championship,” Larrañaga told the Miami Herald.
Izzo wound up hiring Heath. Four years later, the Spartans hoisted their first national championship trophy. Josh Heath, who dished out seven second-half assists against Boston College, corroborated his family’s “Mannequin Challenge” story before practice Monday.
Miami is 15-1 this year when scoring 70+ points.
Georgia Tech is 12-0.
Evidently, like most retirees in south Florida, life begins after 70.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in Coral Gables.