Dec. 5, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Despite the temptation to worry at times that you were in the wrong place, McCamish Pavilion was the right spot to be Tuesday night if you bleed Old Gold & White. Georgia Tech’s 62-54 win over Georgia was a barometer of things coming.
The sight of students lined up about 100 yards deep hoping to get in was not a mirage just 15 minutes before tip-off. When was the last time that happened at a Tech basketball game? When was the last time the head coach spent, oh, 16 minutes talking to the media after a game? With a crowd of 30 or so in the room?
Some of those things in recent years have lasted about 90 seconds, with about four listeners, a quarter of them asleep.
Anybody remember seeing a Tech head coach shooting the breeze in a hallway before entering his press conference and hammering home to VIPs and guests – unprovoked – the beauty and importance of the noise and energy brought by students in the fan section?
Beating Georgia in anything is always a very good thing, but the Jackets’ win over the Bulldogs was sublime for so many more reasons that one might normally apply.
The Mac was rocking right down to the halftime deal where several pee-wee fans from the crowd (kids) raised the roof while dunking on a short goal. “Standing 3-feet-11, from Dunwoody . . . ” went a call. People wanted to be there.
This may be blasphemous on some level, but the usual details like free throws made, turnovers lost, points scored . . . they mattered less than the vibe.
“Getting back-to-back wins in this series is amazing,” said the Jackets’ czar, Brian Gregory. “The crowd was fantastic. This place has a chance to become a special home court. The crowd is on top of you, it’s really loud and the students are tremendous.”
Hey, fellas, thanks. It’s been a while. Apparently, you noticed. No wonder senior Mfon Udofia was grinning after rising from the wounded and scoring 12 points with gut-check play upon an ankle befitting an accident with a tree a shredder.
“At first, I didn’t know I was going to play. I was on crutches, and barely able to walk,” said the young man with a severely wounded ankle. “This was Georgia, and this is my last year so even if I had to just go out and act like I could play so my guys knew I was here . . . if I had just sat there in a tie and a Polo, those guys wouldn’t have had the same energy.”
Oh, there was quite a bit of that.
Tech razed a mausoleum a while back, and replaced it with a palace fit for Kings and everybody acted like they belonged.
McCamish is cozy, not vacuous. Tuesday’s crowd of 8,600 was part of the show; it was like a reality TV event.
The game itself was no work of art unless, that is, you’re a fan of Viking sports.
Neither team shot the ball well, both teams played defense with a license to mug, and nobody made a statement that said, “Hey, we’ll be there on Selection Sunday.”
Yet the Jackets served notice that they’re moving in that direction.
Udofia shed his crutches and set the Jackets’ mojo, freshman Marcus Georges-Hunt continued his ahead-of-schedule play with a game-high 18, and Tech out-bulldoged the Dogs. The Jackets scrapped.
It started with defense.
Tech forged a 35-22 halftime lead in large measure by tracking and surrounding the Dogs’ fabulous Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The precocious sophomore was limited to four points on 2-for-6 shooting and two turnovers in the first half, when the Dogs shot 34.6 percent and made just 1-of-9 shots from 3-point distance.
On the other end of the court, the Jackets turned the ball over just twice – an enormous development for a team that last year was among the nation’s most generous in terms of turnovers.
Sure, Tech was also at 34.6 percent for the half, but add the Jackets’ 6-for-10 tally from trey land in that time, and an 11-of-14 count from the free throw line, and, wow! There were developments.
After building a 15-point lead, the Jackets were a little sketchy as the stretch approached, and their offensive efficiency was stretched thin with nine second-half turnovers and free throw shooting that did not keep pace with the first half (11-for-14 before halftime, and 10-for-18 after).
But a funny, or rather unusual, thing happened: the Jackets clutched up as time wound down.
Caldwell-Pope was scoring in the second half, although the Jackets continued to make him a high-volume, modest-impact scorer (he made 3-of-12 shots after half on the way to scoring 16 points), and he grabbed nine of his game-high 12 rebounds.
But Jason Morris blocked him at the 2:26 mark, Udofia drove fearlessly just inside the final minute for a three-point play (“I saw the shot click winding down,” he said. “I was scared to go to the basket [because of his ankle], but I went anyway. I was surprised it went in,)” and resurgent center Daniel Miller (six points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) rejected Caldwell-Pope again moments later.
Each time, The Mac thundered.
This was stout stuff, and it was fun.
“It’s a great feeling,” Udofia said. “Every year you’ve got that game on your schedule, and it’s a must win. I can talk to [Georgia’s] Donte [Williams] and Brandon [Morris], my high school teammates.”
Click here to view a highlight video from the game.
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