March 13, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– An odd question was asked of Brian Gregory the other day, when the Georgia Tech basketball coach was caught off guard enough by a TV reporter’s query that he paused briefly before answering, and cracked his crooked “Are you nuts?” semi-grin as he did.
He was asked – paraphrasing here – if his team is still riding momentum from the big win. That was a reference to the Yellow Jackets’ upset at No. 6 win at Miami last week.
That produced a grand feeling, for sure, but between then and today’s noon rematch with Boston College in the ACC tournament opener, the Jackets frittered away a win at B.C.
Context is critical, and that loss did not change Tech’s worldview from within or without. Instead, that was an opportunity lost.
Yet a win in today’s rematch would gain another chance to change impressions. The winner gets a Friday shot at the ACC regular season champion Hurricanes, not to mention a shot at advancing to further postseason play.
“If there was [momentum], we got slapped in the face with reality that those are the highs and lows in a three-day period,” Gregory said. “You kind of felt everything with college basketball: the exhuberence we had on Wednesday night and the disappointment with the same guys [Saturday].”
Afforded a unique chance to prove their mettle outside of Beantown, the Jackets had it in their grasp and lost their grip.
Had the Jackets held on at Boston College rather than lose a 11-point second-half lead to fall 74-72, questions about their collective chutzpah would have abated.
That would have affirmed the 71-69 win at Miami late Wednesday, after which even Gregory said it would take a win over B.C. to qualify Miami as a breakthrough.
Instead, some 60 hours after Gregory’s biggest win as Tech’s coach, he opened a post-game interview with Wes Durham by saying, “We’re not there yet,” after B.C.
In meeting with the media before leaving Atlanta for Greensboro, the coach elaborated.
“I thought it would be a great test to see if we’d taken a step . . . to play three games in six days, an evening game on Sunday, a 9 p.m. game on Wednesday that was not only physically draining but emotionally draining as well, get back at 3 a.m., go to class on Thursday, having travel problems on Friday, playing at noon on Saturday without the Poole brothers,” he said.
“It would have been a huge step in terms of the mental toughness that I think this program has to keep moving forward, and unfortunately I didn’t think we had that.”
Tech (16-14, 6-12 ACC) lost because point guard Mfon Udofia was in foul trouble, Solomon Poole wasn’t in Boston to back him up (he and brother Stacey were tending to a death in the family), the Eagles (15-16, 7-11) were allowed too easily to get to the rim, and Tech’s offense sputtered at the worst time.
The coach said that Udofia needs to play better than he did at B.C. All Jackets need to player harder for longer.
The Jackets have on several occasions played furiously for 40 minutes in trying to match up to superior competition, but in perhaps an equal number of instances they have either played down to inferior opponents or loosened their grip erringly.
“We have to play the whole game, not just get our lead and relax. You could see [B.C.] called a timeout when we were up by 10, and they just kind of came out and out-hustled us, playing hard, added more intensity,” said junior center Daniel Miller. “We’ve just got to keep playing. That’s a team that we can beat.”
It’s win-or-go-home time.
“You have to play that way. If our young guys are able to embrace that, then we’ll be in better shape,” Gregory said. “It’s a new season. We’ve made a lot of improvements, and we have the opportunity to go to Greensboro and hopefully play our best basketball of the year over a four-day period.
“Hopefully, after the disappointment of Saturday, our guys will be highly motivated. I think our guys understand that when we execute on both ends of the floor, we’re a pretty good team. Now, our job is to be able to do that starting Thursday.”
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