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Tech's Toughness Tops Terps

Feb. 25, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Raise your hand if you figured when you woke up Saturday that the men’s basketball team would be the only Georgia Tech squad to win later that day.

Go figure again.

There’s probably no need to tell anybody to put their hand down because head coach Brian Gregory’s team has scuffled — at times painfully — in his first season in charge, and: a.) the baseball team was to meet an Ohio State squad it had dominated on Friday, and b.) the softball team . . . nobody predicted the No. 17 squad in the nation would lose a pair to stretch a losing streak to five games.

If your hand is up, though, welcome to the margins — where Gregory’s guys have lived for a couple months.

The Tech coach has said repeatedly this season that his squad’s margin for error is slim, and with leading scorer Glen Rice Jr. still suspended and Nate Hicks’ battle with mononucleosis leaving the Jackets with only one reserve big man (Julian Royal) to spell starters Kammeon Holsey and Daniel Miller, slim has turned to a razor.

That’s why the Tech starters all played at least 31 minutes against Maryland, against whom the Jackets could only win one of two ways: have everybody perform at or very near peak capacity, or have a couple players turn in career days.

As it turned out, the Jackets turned the razor on the Terrapins in a 63-61 in which both dreams came true and Tech looked every bit like a legitimate basketball team. Kammeon Holsey and Mfon Udofia turned in the career efforts, and every single player turned in a bona fide effort.

Oh, and the Jackets were the steelier team.

“I’m happy for the players,” Gregory said. “I think we did a good job in toughness, mentally and physically. Down nine in the second half, we could have backed down right there and didn’t.”

Holsey’s had his moments this season, and it’s clear the sophomore from The Sticks (Sparta, Ga., hometown of former NBA players Horace and Harvey Grant), can score around the basket, but if you predicted he’d give the Jackets the first double-double of his career with 16 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, your hand is probably still up.

Then, there’s Udofia. He’s struggled mightily to score at times this season as Gregory is asking him to go about his game in ways very different than those to which he is accustomed.

His seven points Saturday were not exactly Chris Paul-in-a-bottle although he made the biggest offensive play of the game when his three-point play with 1:43 left in Philips Arena gave the Jackets lead lead (58-56) once and for all.

Udofia’s primary responsibility Saturday, however, was not to tickle the nets so much as it was to run the show — which he did by assisting on six of Tech’s first eight baskets on the way to a career-high nine dimes — and harass Terrell Stoglin.

This Stoglin fellow, a 6-foot-1 bundle of energy by way of Tucson, Ariz., is a load.

He leads the ACC in scoring still, with an average of 21.1 points, and is fast striking his name into Maryland annals in all kinds of ways. There are not even two dozen Division I players in all of college basketball averaging 20 or more points, and he’s doing it in the ACC.

Stoglin gave the Terrapins a 56-55 lead on a lightning-quick drive through traffic with 2:03 left in Saturday’s game, and he led Maryland with 18 points.

But Udofia — with help from his ‘mates — made Stoglin a volume shooter in the process. He tried to score 17 times, but succeeded only five. Seven of his points came at the free throw line.

That, folks, is work. It was also exactly what Gregory asked of his point guard.

“Coach threw a challenge out there,” Udofia said. “It was a deal where you thought, ‘Not tonight.’ “

It was not Stoglin’s night, er, day. It was Udofia’s: “I think Mfon . . . nine assists, three turnovers and the job he did on Stoglin . . . I think maybe he’s playing as well as he has played in his career.”

That was Gregory’s take.

There were early signs Saturday that it would be a much different game than what happened Tuesday in Philips. In that one, against Clemson, the Jackets worked and worked, but to limited utility. They lost 56-37, even though they grabbed a robust 15 offensive rebounds, and their effort level was generally there even if their legs were not always along for the ride. The results were not there, and that can be the worst kind of frustrating. It’s one thing to get beat when you’re dogging it. To bust your humps and come up so empty can drive you batty.

So Gregory dialed back the practice intensity Thursday and Friday with the idea that some life might return to the Jackets and their legs.

It worked.

Tech started out white hot.

Jason Morris, who’d had a dreadful February in averaging 3.3 points and missed all 12 of his 3-point shots in the previous four games (all losses) only to drill treys on the Jackets’ first two possessions — both on assists from Udofia.

Daniel Miller soon ran the floor ahead of everybody and scored on an alley-oop, and then reserve guard Nick Foreman added back-to-back 3-balls and Tech led 18-11.

Then, winter came. Tech missed 17 of its final 24 shots in the first half, and trailed 37-31 at the break.

Never, though, did you get the sense that the Jackets were going to take a dive, not even after Stoglin hit three free throws early in the second half to push the Maryland lead to 40-31.

Tech’s sense of purpose was evident all along, and since the Jackets had some legs to ride shotgun with that esprit d’ corps, the coming result would be appealing.

From there, Tech put the clamps on the visitors.

Maryland missed 20 of its first 22 shots in the second half, and would hit just 7-of-30 after intermission.

This was the work of everyone, Miller and Udofia chief among the stingy lads.

Daniel blocked four shots in the second half, Holsey and Morris blocked one each, and the Terps found hands in their faces, help defenders around most screens, and a lid upon the basket.

The Terps made just 2-of-14 jumpers in the second half, when Tech guard Brandon Reed said, “we were communicating really well,” on defense, and they were statistically just a little better on layups. The fact they made just 5-of-16 of those, however, means they were actually worse from up close. Those were, after all, layups.

As frustrated Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said, “We missed a lot of bunnies. The game got physical. We couldn’t handle it . . . second half, [the Jackets] were tougher than we were. Their big guys kick our big guys’ tails. Holsey was great. Their interior defense was great. They wanted it more.”

How about that?

Still, this being college basketball, the script was not finished even when Tech’s lead grew to 53-46 on two Holsey free throws with 7:02 left in the game.

Udofia would find his fourth foul, and with him on the bench Maryland began a rally. The Terps finished it after Udofia returned, but after Stoglin’s lead-changing blur of a drive, Mfon countered with a nearly identical parry at the other end. He got hacked, though, and made the money free throw with 1:43 left to put Tech on top, 58-56. This was far from over.

Brandon Reed soon drew a charge from Stoglin, but the Jackets turned it quickly back over.

Yet another Stoglin miss became one of Udofia’s five rebounds, and the Jackets went to stall.

Gregory might’ve been looking for his guys to burn a little more clock at the other end, but when Reed came around a high screen at the other end, he let it fly — even though there were nine seconds left on the shot clock.

As with so many things relating to this team, there was a fine line between trying to burn more time and getting off a good shot. This was a good shot — albeit from about 25 feet. “We swung the ball, and we were trying to hold for a few seconds, but [upon coming around the screen] I saw [Maryland center Alex] Len holding [after following the screener, his man, out to the pick rather than hedging to help on Reed].”

And . . . Swish!

Large as that was, giving Tech a 61-56 lead with 27 seconds left, there would be more tension.

Len got an uncontested dunk with 18 seconds left, but, as Gregory said after the game, “We didn’t panic.

No, they didn’t. Well, sort of.

Morris turned the ball over when he failed to inbound in five seconds, and Maryland inbounded near their basket.

Stoglin missed yet again, however, leaving the Terps pointless in five second-half trey tries.

Holsey grabbed his 10th rebound, was fouled, and made the first free throw. He did not miss the second one on purpose, but he missed and Maryland still had life with eight second left. They were behind 62-58, and Stoglin drilled a trey — his only successful landing in six long-ball attempts — with three seconds to go.

Maryland was within a skinny point.

Reed was fouled upon taking the inbounds pass, and although he missed the first free throw and made the second, Maryland had no timeouts to set up a play with just over a single second left. A long heave fell well short of the basket, and the Jackets were joyous.

“We’re real happy,” Udofia said. “I always tell the guys, ‘Something’s going to shake.’ “

No doubt about that. The Tech locker room was practically shaking after the game, as the Jackets had won for just the second time in 13 games. They’d just competed from beginning to end, made some clutch free throws (25-of-33 overall), added enough 3-pointers (6-of-17) and even out-scored Maryland in fast break points (albeit by a modest 11-7 margin) to achieve at a substantial level in all three “easy points” categories of where this team so often has struggled to make hay. Tech was bonafide on both sides of the ball. That was fun to watch.

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