Nov. 11, 2009
by Jon Cooper, Contributing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA — There are no sure things in basketball. So when someone says, “I knew,” before anything transpires in a game, there’s good reason for skepticism.
That’s especially true when talking about Georgia Tech and foul-shooting.
Last season, nothing was more suspenseful and unpredictable than a Yellow Jacket taking aim from the foul line.
Tech shot an ACC-worst 63.0 percent from the line, and, not coincidentally, finished an ACC-worst 2-14. That inconsistency directly contributed to a 6-10 record in games decided by six points or less, 2-8 in ACC competition.
For most of Sunday night’s 84-76 exhibition game victory against Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the suspense from the charity stripe seemed to carry over.
The 22nd-ranked Yellow Jackets clanged seven of 15 second-half FTAs (10 of 22 overall in regulation), allowing IUP to not only stay in the game, but shoot for the win at the final buzzer.
Yet, there was Iman Shumpert making the following post-game proclamation about Moe Miller’s overtime heroics, when Miller made four straight free throws to seal the victory. Tech was a perfect six-for-six in overtime, as Gani Lawal also hit two.
“I knew he would step up and make his free throws because in practice he’s been real comfortable at the free throw line,” Shumpert said.
Miller wasn’t about to dismiss his teammate’s faith in him. In fact, he pointed to that faith in himself for draining the shots.
“They always count, but at the end you’ve got to step up, you’ve got to want to shoot it,” he said. “You’ve just got to have faith and know that you’ll make it. I knew I was going to make my free throws at the end.”
Miller knowing he would make the foul shots is special, simply because until recently no one was even sure he was going to get the opportunity to be on the court to take them.
It’s been a painful year-plus for Miller, who has overcome three concussions, the latest coming just prior the opening of practice. But he’s worked his way back into Paul Hewitt’s rotation and into a crucial leadership role.
Seeing Miller back leading the attack was as big a reason for smiles all around as was seeing him swish his game-icing foul shots.
“I was happy for him,” said Hewitt in stark contrast to an Oct. 13 press conference where relayed news that Miller had suffered a third concussion in an auto accident. “He closed out, he got a loose ball in traffic and made some free throws at the end. He did a nice job for us down the stretch. I was happy for him.”
“Working back into the swing of things with all the concussions and getting that mask [worn after a broken nose last season] off finally, it was good for Mo to get out there,” added Shumpert.
Miller played 21 minutes against IUP, including the entire overtime, where he teamed with freshman point guard Mfon Udofia to push the tempo. He also pulled down a crucial rebound with the score tied at 76, recovered the ball in a mid-court scramble and got it to D’Andre Bell in the left corner. Bell fed Derrick Favors for what proved to be the game-winning points.
“I was trying to just push us because if felt like we weren’t using any energy,” he said. “For some reason, everybody just seemed kind of down.”
Miller has been down and has no plan on going back. He’s going to keep the tempo and the team’s spirits up. He’s looking forward to continued play with Udofia and Shumpert.
“We’re still learning each other but for the most part, me, Mfon, Iman, we love playing with each other,” he said. “It takes pressure off each other. If one gets it we can just run the lane. Something we haven’t been able to do in the previous years. It’s a good feeling.”
His teammates have similar good feelings about Miller’s season.
“Him, Mfon and Iman all out there at the point guard position, it’s really good for us because who ever gets the rebound can just go and get us into our sets,” said Lawal. “I’m looking for a big year for Mo.”
“To have me and Mfon with him, he’s a lot more comfortable. He doesn’t have to have that, ‘I have to bring it up against pressure all the time,’ on his back,” added Shumpert. “He’s just out there playing, he’s comfortable. I think Mo’s going to have a very good season.”
Sometimes you just know.