Jan. 15, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Cameron Indoor is not exactly the place for a young team to earn its first ACC victory.
Georgia Tech hopes that it will be the perfect place for them to do so.
It’s where the schedule-makers have Tech going on Thursday, as the Jackets (10-5, 0-3) take on No. 3 Duke (15-1, 2-1) in looking to put Saturday’s disappointing 70-65 overtime loss to Virginia Tech behind them. Head Coach Brian Gregory, who will be making his first trip their, believes his team will be ready. They really don’t have a choice.
“In this league that’s one of the biggest challenges because you’re going to play well and lose some games and then not play as well. So you’ve just got to move on to the next game,” he said to the media prior to Monday afternoon’s practice at Zelnak Center. “Obviously, it’s Duke and you’re on the road, so that presents an even bigger challenge but you would hope that our guys would go after the next three days because all we’ve talked about is continued improvements. So we’ve got to do that.”
For 33:30 on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets went after Virginia Tech and appeared on course for their first conference win of the season. But GT missed its final nine shots, turned the ball over twice and missed three of five free-throw attempts, allowing the Hokies to force an extra period. The funk continued in the extra session and the Jackets found themselves down seven within two minutes.
“I’m disappointed on Saturday. There’s no question about it,” said Gregory. “We had a game that was ours for the taking and we didn’t finish.”We played a very, very poor seven minutes there. We had some good looks at the basket. In the other two losses, let’s be honest here, were against the two undefeated teams in the league.”
“We have to move forward as a team,” said forward Kam Holsey, one of the top sixth men in the ACC, but who had only four points and three rebounds in 21 minutes. “You can’t take back the [Virginia Tech] game. We should have won the game but we lost it. You have to put it behind you. We have to focus on the game we have coming up. All games on the road are tough and Duke is a tough place, but we have to go in there and play with high energy, at a high level and play our best basketball.”
Duke is also looking to bounce back following their first loss of the season Saturday at No. 14/15 NC State. They’ll be without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who is out indefinitely after spraining his right foot on Jan. 8 against Clemson.
The injury will hurt the Blue Devils — it already has as they fell from the ranks of the unbeaten — but Gregory believes Duke will is as dangerous as ever.
“I think any time that you lose a player of that caliber it affects your overall game,” he said. “The one thing that happens is usually, initially there’s a greater adjustment then after a game or two they kind of figure it out and figure out another way to play or use guys in his place, either in the same role or in a little different role.
“He was their key guy in a lot of end of games for them because of his ability to make shots,” he said. “He was 14-for-14 from the free throw line against us last year. He’s a tough match-up.”
Of course, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Duke, as with Kelly out, Duhighly recruited freshman forward Amile Jefferson and junior forward Josh Hairston are in.
“When they asked [NC State] Coach Gottfried about what’s the difference with Kelly out he said, ‘They just moved another All-American in,'” said Gregory with a laugh. “That’s what they did, in Jefferson, who’s a very talented player in his own right.”
The Jackets enter Thursday’s game with a right-foot injury of its own, as Jason Morris will be out for another two to three weeks having re-aggravated his plantar fascitis.
That puts an even greater burden on rookies Marcus Georges-Hunt, Robert Carter, Jr. and Chris Bolden. The trio has played a key role in the team’s success, but also has suffered the natural growing pains of freshmen being thrown into the fire of ACC play. Bolden hit Tech’s last field goal in regulation, a three with 7:26 left, but missed a three on the next possession before being subbed out. Marcus Georges-Hunt was 0-for-2, with two missed free throws and a turnover, and Carter was 0-for-4 down the stretch.
Gregory remains patient with his talented trio.
“With those three freshmen logging so many minutes it’s for each and every one of them to continue to improve within the season, which is hard to do but is something that we need,” he said. “Jason obviously, [being out] hurts us. He’s a guy that has proven himself to be able to have some big scoring nights for us in this league. We need that. In some big games he’s been a good spark off the bench for us.”
Gregory also is looking to Holsey to lead the charge and be more aggressive.
“He’s struggling the last couple of games. I think that’s one of our big keys,” he said. “We need Kam back to being Kam, being aggressive, scoring, not over-analyzing the post moves, just going to the basket. We need him rebounding the ball better. We need him back playing the way he was in the first 13 games.”
Gregory hopes Holsey and the entire team takes on a more aggressive approach, especially on the offensive glass and in transition defense. Tech is sixth in the conference in offensive rebounding (10.0 ORBs per game) but managed only one in the first half against Virginia Tech.
It’s an area Duke might be vulnerable, as their plus-1.3 rebounding margin is seventh in the conference (Tech is 11th at minus-9.3).
“One of our major concerns is right now we’re just not a very good transition defensive team,” said Gregory. “We’re giving up way too many baskets in the open court. In this league you can’t do that. Our margin of error is still small. So those points are big points. Obviously, the thing I’ve been echoing all year long is our rebounding. Now, in some of those games we’ve missed an enormous amount of shots, which is going to skew the rebounding. But we have to rebound the ball better.
“We’re only rebounding a little less than 30 percent of our misses, which isn’t good enough,” he added. “It’s got to be in the mid- to high-30s. It’s just something that we need to emphasize. Against Duke, it has been an area where they’ve been hurt in the past.”
Gregory is hoping his team can come together and do enough things to hurt them again, this time for 40 minutes.
“We’ve just got to do a better job, myself, our coaching staff, everybody, of finishing those games,” he said. “I understand the frustration. Believe me, the frustration starts with me.”