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Jack In The Box: A thing of duty, not beauty

Jan. 7, 2009

By Jack Wilkinson

Sometimes in writing — as in basketball and, of course, parallel parking –, it’s necessary to back in. It may help tell the story, or embellish it. Or, OK, provide an easy excuse to use a funny — yet fitting — anecdote. So, indulge me:

Last March, after the tornado tore through downtown Atlanta, severely damaged the Georgia Dome and transplanted the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Georgia took full advantage of its temporary home-away-from-dome. Somehow, the Dawgs won the SEC title while playing at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, which the Institute had graciously offered to the SEC.

Four days later, as UGA prepared to tip off against Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, a Georgia alum named Bill Hankins got an e-mail from a friend: a Tech fan who shall remain nameless, congratulating Hankins on his heretofore downtrodden Dawgs’ stunning achievement. The guy also suggested a little home improvement for this season at Stegeman Coliseum, a swell gymnastics venue.

“Y’all oughta paint a giant Bee on your court,” he wrote.

You know. Just like the enormous Buzz, Tech’s Yellow Jacket mascot, that’s painted on Cremins Court at Alexander. His reasoning was sound, above reproach and partisanship.

“Y’all play like a mother on that Bee.”

When Georgia returned to the Flats Tuesday night and once again set sneaker on Buzz,, the Dawgs looked comfortable in the AMC. At least until the second half. This time, the decisive factor wasn’t Tech’s Bee. Rather, Tech’s D.

Pretty, it wasn’t. “That was kind of ugly,” Gani Lawal admitted after Tech’s 67-62 comeback victory over Georgia that had Alexander aroar, louder — and fuller — than it’s been all season. Why, you’d have thought Jonathan Dwyer had just scored again in Athens.

But then, this was a thing of duty, not beauty.

“A rivalry game,” Paul Hewitt said. And the coach ticked off other reasons why this win was as significant as it was unsightly.

“Protecting home court,” said Hewitt, whose Jackets — after starting the season 5-0 — had lost three of their previous four games. One, a wrenching 88-84 overtime loss to Virginia in the ACC opener, is one of three home defeats for Tech.

And with Georgia the Jackets’ last non-conference foe before a 15-game gauntlet of ACC games begins Saturday at Maryland, Tech needed to beat the Dogs in the worst way. And in some ways, Tech did just that. But prevailed.

Tech came out misfiring, hitting but 4 of its first 20 shots. And won.

Tech made just 1 of 11 3-point attempts. And won.

Tech continued its struggles at the foul line, making 14 of 22. And won.

Tech was down 10 at the break, 38-28, 13 early in the second half. And won.

All this after Tech trailed 44-25 at halftime at Alabama just three days earlier, and was down by as many as 30 before pressing full-court and rallying within 11. Down, yes, but not down-hearted.

“We had to replenish ourselves,” Zachery Peacock said, alluding to the Alabama debacle. Replenishment, thy name is Zach & Co.

“Without a doubt,” Georgia coach Dennis Felton said, “Peacock won the game.” Playing mostly the 4 spot, or power forward position, Peacock was a 4-star 4. He finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds — including 9 of Tech’s 23 offensive boards –, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Lawal’s 15 points and 14 rebounds (6 offensive) were crucial, too. Lewis Clinch, the shooting guard who misfired on all six of his 3-point attempts, kept Tech in it with 9 of his 12 points in the first half.

But it was Clinch’s hustle and grit, and all the Jackets’ defensive tenacity and rebounding after the break, that finally proved decisive. In short, Tech’s D.

Georgia shot just 27.3 per cent (6-for-22) in the second half. And lost.

Georgia, after making 4 of 12 3-pointers in the first half, was just 1-for-5 from beyond the arc in the second. And lost.

Georgia committed 12 of its 19 turnovers after intermission. And lost.

Georgia was badly beaten 23-13 on the offensive boards. And lost.

All this on the same court where the Dogs danced with delight last March after their remarkable, unlikely run through the SEC Tournament. Not Tuesday, however.

This time, with another tornado warning issued shortly before tipoff, Alexander rightfully belonged to the real Bees. Lance Storrs’ 3-pointer finally drew Tech even at 51-all. It was tied again at 56-56 after a telling Tech possession when the Jackets grabbed four offensive rebounds.

The last, by Peacock, led to his two free throws to tie it anew. His tough layup in the lane broke the game’s last tie with 1:22 to play.

Although Clinch missed a 3-pointer after one last Georgia turnover, he hustled and dived on the floor, grabbing the ball away from the Dogs’ Terrance Woodbury. When Lawal followed with a thunderous jam, he screamed and pulled up his jersey. The old Thrillerdome, well, it thundered.

And when Clinch clinched it at 0:04 with two free throws (the Jackets were 6-for-7 at the line inside the last 3 minutes), Tech’s largest and loudest crowd of the season roared. Why, you’d have thought Roddy Jones had just scored again in Athens.

The fan faithful sang, too: “Up with the White and Gold.” “I’m a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech.” Including, of course, an emphatic “To Hell with Georgia!” Like their daddies used to do.

And why not? They’d been waiting all season for a real reason to exhale and exult at home. And in the final moments, finally, the Jackets all played like a mother on that Bee.


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