Feb. 4, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Once is a chance. Twice is coincidence. Third time is a pattern.
Georgia Tech has plans on creating a pattern when it takes the floor of McCamish Pavilion tonight to battle Florida State. Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. and the game can be seen on Fox Sports South.
The Yellow Jackets have won the second half of their last two conference games — last Tuesday night in Clemson, and Sunday afternoon at McCamish against Virginia. It’s no coincidence how they’ve done it, using defense to shut down opposing offenses and cutting down on turnovers.
Sparked by those improved facets they nearly overcame an 11-point second-half deficit against the Tigers and Sunday pulled off one of the more memorable upsets of this ACC season, rallying from nine down at the half.
“A little bit comes with getting a little bit more experience, a little bit comes with sometimes you have to learn from the disappointments,” said head coach Brian Gregory. “We’ve had a few but we’re learning and we’re getting better at that.”
Amongst those making improvements and adjustments are freshmen Chris Bolden and Marcus Georges-Hunt. Both were instrumental in Sunday’s comeback against Virginia, as both guarded Virginia’s leading scorer Joe Harris. Harris scored a game-high 18, but managed only four points in the second 20 minutes, shooting 1-for-5, 1-for-4 from three, the Cavs shot only 28.6 percent in the second half, getting outscored 38-23 in allowing 60 points for the first time to an ACC team.
“We pressured the ball more,” said Gregory. “They run the motion offense. As I said, if you make a mistake they make you pay. To make you pay they have to deliver an on-time, on-target pass.
“I knew it was Super Bowl Sunday so we used the analogy of the quarterback, we had to put some more pressure on the quarterback,” he added. “So he wasn’t able to make any pass that he wanted to make. You can talk about it and you can show them on the grease board during the five minutes you have with them at halftime. But the guys have to go out there and do it. So the credit goes to the guys because they did that and they performed very well.”
It’s something at which the freshman guards have gotten more adept. Bolden feels it wasn’t just the freshmen who did the job Sunday and it isn’t just the freshmen who are authoring the turnaround.
“It’s team defense,” said Bolen. “I wasn’t on [Harris] the whole time. Marcus did a great job guarding him. Rob [Carter, Jr.] got matched up with him, Mfon [Udofia] got matched up with him. So when we had to switch onto him we all did a great job of guarding him. The whole team is coming together. It’s not just the freshmen. We need that to win.”
Georges-Hunt points to a positive mental approach that is starting to come to the forefront.
“We went into the locker room and we told each other ‘Don’t put your head down. Everybody keep your head up. We’re only down a couple of possessions. We have to go back out there with a different mindset and take over this game,'” he said.
That approach has been fostered by Udofia and really became a priority following a team meeting called a couple of weeks back by guard Pierre Jordan. It has allowed the team to better handle adversity and losses like the heartbreaker in Clemson.
Gregory firmly believes overcoming adversity is all part of the learning process.
“Unfortunately it is. I wish it wasn’t, but it is,” he said. “The most important thing is it’s not where you are, but what are you learning from where you’re at, and are you moving forward? I think we are.”
“Losing close games like that, you can’t put your head down and get mad at yourself,” said Georges-Hunt. “You just have to go back the next day, go into practice and go even harder than you did the day before you played that game that you lost. You can’t really put your head down.”
The Jackets certainly can’t put their heads down when they meet up with Florida State, which is 4-4, two games ahead of Tech in the ACC.
FSU scores three points a game more than Tech and shoots 20 points better (44.0, seventh, to 42.2, last), 50 points from three (35.7, fifth to 30.7, last) and more than 80 points better from the line (72.3, first, to 63.9, last). But an equalizer is defense, where the Jackets allow nearly eight fewer points (59.7, fourth, to 67.6, seventh) hold opponents to 40 points lower in field goal percentage (38.0, fourth, to 42.4, 10th), and 60 points lower from three (30.9, fifth, to 35.0, 11th).
Their big gun in senior guard Michael Snaer, who is 12th in scoring (13.9 ppg), sixth in three-point shooting (38.8 percent) and free throw shooting (79.3), and is tied for seventh in three-point field goals made (2.0 per game). He’s especially dangerous late in the game, as the man who’s become known as “Big-Shot Mike” has hit four game-winning threes over the last two seasons, his last coming Wednesday, with 1.1 seconds left as FSU beat Maryland.
Georges-Hunt feels trying to stop Snaer will be a lot like trying to stop Harris.
“You have to be on his toes because he’s a pretty good player, too,” he said. “He can shoot the ball really well.”
Of course, Gregory, who said that responsibility will fall a lot on Bolden, is as concerned with his team being close late, as they will be playing on a short turnaround. FSU last played Saturday, a 19-point loss to Duke, but has shown a penchant for strong second-half comebacks.
“First let’s hope we have a lead because it’s much better to work from the lead than the other way around,” he said. “They’re coached by Leonard Hamilton. They’re going to play for 40 minutes. I think they’re accustomed to where it may not always be pretty but they’re going to keep competing. That’s why they have been able to have some of those comebacks and win those games.”
The series has been tightly contested, as, except for last year’s 14-point FSU win, the last 12 meetings have been decided by nine-or-fewer points, with eight of those games decided by four-or-fewer. The Jackets would like to turn around recent history, however, as they have lost seven straight in the series.
It’s a pattern that they’d like to end as they establish an ACC-winning pattern of their own.