Jan. 26, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
There were too many positive signs in Georgia Tech’s 82-62 win over Wake Forest Saturday afternoon to keep count, and it could be that the most welcome result in the Yellow Jackets’ first ACC win came not in any of the four 30-point leads they built in the first half, but rather what happened after a chunk of that margin was frittered away.
Sure, the Jackets and their fans have been waiting desperately to see something like the ultra-efficient first 19 minutes when Tech built leads of 37-7, 39-9, 50-20 and 52-22 as Robert Carter Jr. scored 15 of his career-high 20 points.
That was beautiful and efficient basketball, the best seen around these parts in a long, long time, yet Tech (11-7, 1-5 ACC) is not going to make any constant noise by throttling teams. In this league, that’s just not going to happen.
If the Jackets are going evolve into a second-half menace in the ACC, then they’re going to have to show that they can get going when the going gets tough. They need to be tougher than in the five-game losing streak that kicked off the conference season.
Saturday in McCamish Pavilion, the Jackets were that and not just early.
“I felt that in the last few weeks during a difficult stretch it was going to be important for the guys to stay strong, and that’s what they’ve done,” said head coach Brian Gregory. “Even during this tough stretch, we’ve been getting better.”
Wake Forest (10-9, 3-4) trailed No. 18 N.C. State by 16 late in the first half Tuesday, and was behind by 12 at halftime. Then, the Demon Deacons won 86-84.
The visitors were up to it again Saturday, closing the first half with a 7-0 run to trail 52-29 at halftime. They started the second half with a 5-0 spurt, and cut the lead to 18 points a couple times in the second half.
Gregory said on a couple occasions during the non-conference portion of the season, “we need a little adversity.” That was a way of explaining his team’s frustrating tendency to let slip away large leads against vastly inferior teams.
There are no vastly inferior teams in the ACC, and when you build a big lead it is quite often difficult to hold, especially when that big lead comes in the first half.
Attention spans tend to run at a deficit when the going’s good.
So it was for a while Saturday, as the Jackets became a little careless with the basketball in the middle of the game, and the Demon Deacons became more aggressive as Tech played for a while with less diligence.
The good guys rallied up, however, and got back to good habits and cleaner basketball to basically maintain a massive lead even as the Demon Deacons began to play as if afire.
Saturday was a great, big step forward.
The Jackets’ five-game stretch to open ACC play was heinously rude. Tech was competitive in each of those games, a little less so against Miami in the opener, but they struggled to make shots in all of them.
That was not a problem early against the Demon Deacons. Tech made its first four shots for an 11-0 lead, and they got on offensive rebound on their fifth possession on the way to a 13-point bulge. The Jackets scored 16 points before Wake scored at all.
Tech scored on 22 of 37 possessions in the first half, made 21 of 34 shots and 6-of-11 3-pointers, out-scored Wake 26-10 in the paint, and grabbed five offensive rebounds for an offensive rebounding rate of 35.7 percent. That’s astounding, and so was the Jackets’ offensive efficiency rating of 140.5.
The Jackets continued playing at the high tempo of recent games, but in this one they were not coughing the ball up (until the final minute or so of the first half and early in the second) and they were making shots. Tech hardly resembled the team that entered the game trailing the ACC in field goal percentage (36.1) and 3-point efficiency (27.5 percent).
Carter played his best game as a Jacket, and reserve guard Brandon Reed (eight points, six rebounds) returned from a prolonged slump.
Daniel Miller played quite the all-around game (eight points, five rebounds, five assists) and pitched in the offensive play of the day with his drive/dunk from beyond the left elbow. Fellow post man Kam Holsey added eight points, five rebounds and a career-high four assists, and Tech outscored Wake 26-14 off turnovers.
The ball was moving Saturday (20 assists). The Jackets played fine defense. Everybody participated. Tech made 32-of-59 shots (54.2 percent) and 10-of-20 3-pointers.
There were good times enough to go around, but better still there were few signs that when the going gets tough again – and it will – this team may have the gumption to do more about it from here on out.
“This was a great win for us,” Gregory said. “The guys will have about 22 hours to celebrate, and then we get back to work.”
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