Feb. 8, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
There was no suitable soundtrack to accompany Georgia Tech Saturday, when the beleaguered Yellow Jackets played valiantly for more than 30 minutes against No. 20 Virginia only to find themselves under a scrap heap of a score that bore no resemblance to the bulk of the game in McCamish Pavilion.
Virginia was not 64-45 better than Tech, but this is what can happen when you are stretched so thin by injuries and personnel losses than your psyche goes taut.
If audio could’ve been attached to Tech Saturday, whatever sound a bungee cord makes as it unfurls when its wearer has leapt from a bridge might work to start.
Unfortunately, if we were to run sound to the game’s finish, there would be no, “boing!” or recoil but rather a loud, sudden, shockingly sharp, “SNAP!”
Kammeon Holsey’s three-point play gave the Yellow Jackets a 44-42 lead with 9:52 to play. Who could have known Tech would not score again from the field?
While closing the game on a 22-1 run, the Cavs did not suddenly get stronger, jump faster and higher, nor become better shooters.
The Jackets lost focus. They snapped mentally because — this is theory — at some point the knowledge of Tech’s accumulated personnel issues becomes a psychological burden.
To that point, the Jackets played well above their pay grade, other than an especially poor showing on the glass. They were nose-to-nose with a fine Virginia squad (19-5, 10-1 ACC) and heading for money time.
“Tie game, and we’re thinking it’s going to go into the last two rounds of battle [the final eight minutes],” recalled senior center Daniel Miller, who would finish with nine points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots.
Alas, the bungee severed.
Virginia closed 27-4 if you go back to the Jackets taking a 41-37 lead on a trey by Robert Carter Jr. with 14:28 left in the game.
It was good to see Carter back for the first time after missing Tech’s first 10 ACC games following a knee injury that required surgery. It was a sight for sore eyes also to see point guard Trae Golden return after missing the past game-plus with a groin injury.
Neither player was himself, however, and that left the Jackets again thin in a season that has seen head coach Brian Gregory suggest that his team has little, “margin for error.”
Golden, Tech’s leading scorer this season, did not tally on 0-for-3 shooting, nor dish out an assist in 18 minutes. Carter, Tech’s leading rebounder, had five points on 2-for-7 shooting, and grabbed two boards in 16 minutes.
Whichever players are able, and even some who might not be, know that for the Jackets (12-12, 3-8) to win or even compete more is needed from them than what might have been expected if everybody were healthy.
That’s what happened for more than 30 minutes Saturday.
“Coach does ask more of us due to the injuries,” said sophomore swing man Marcus Georges-Hunt. “I try not to make as many mistakes, try to take care of the ball . . . and then when it comes to offense, I try to knock down as many open shots as I can. They weren’t falling today.”
Georges-Hunt scored seven points on 3-for-9 shooting Saturday. In Wednesday’s 45-41 loss at Clemson, where the Jackets had just seven scholarship players in uniform, he shot 1-for-13.
He played fabulous defense on the Tigers’ K.J. McDaniel, which Gregory made his No. 1 assignment. That was an example of the Jackets being pulled in different directions. They’re all being asked to do more.
Again, a theory: Georges-Hunt has been pressed out of position, and out of form, and he’s not alone. And it’s not like Gregory and his staff has other options.
It doesn’t get easier when freshman swing man Quinton Stephens picks up about a foul every two minutes when he plays.
“They’re out of sync with the injuries they have faced,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, whose team has won seven straight. “I thought [Gregory] had them so ready. When we did get to the lane, Miller just cleaned up everything.
“They had us reeling a little bit early, and I don’t know if when we got a little bit of a lead it changed, but Joe [Harris] hit a big three in the corner and it just separated. It changed quickly.”
After Harris tied the game on the two aforementioned free throws, the Cavs cashed in on consecutive turnovers by Tech – one each by Carter and Miller – to go up 48-44. After a Gregory timeout, Harris hit that three and a pall settled.
From the point where Holsey gave the Jackets their last lead, there would be absolutely no Tech highlights unless you stuck around for the Letterman’s Game.
Personally, I loved it when Dennis Scott brought the ball up court and Bobby Cremins yelled from the bench, “Shoot it, shoot it!” the entire time only to have his former superstar oblige shortly after crossing half court.
From about 38 feet, Scott swished. It was sweet, and there were smiles everywhere among several men of middle age and even older.
It was a shame none of those former Jackets have eligibility left. Gregory could have used a couple of them. His guys were not smiling Saturday afternoon.
“I thought those three or four possessions where we had the turnovers . . . led to easy baskets for them. We got stretched a little bit and they took advantage of us,” the Tech coach said. “I’m disappointed in the way it ended in those last seven minutes. The first 33, we did some good things.”
That was particularly true in the first half, when Tech made 5-of-8 3-point shots, and Chris Bolden hit three long balls while connecting on 4-of-5 shots overall for 11 of his 13 points.
The Jackets led 30-29 at halftime, and despite being whipped on the boards they were doing several things well. Their defense was solid.
Free throw shooting was a problem from start to finish, however, as Tech went 3-for-13 and a 46-25 rebounding deficit did not reflect well nor show how passionately the Jackets played for so long.
Bolden was 1-for-7 in the second half, when Tech was 6-for-23 thanks to missing its final nine shots.
At the end, it wasn’t physical shortcomings that flipped the game so much as the cumulative weight generated by the personnel problems.
The physical stresses led to the psychological.
Snap! went the Jackets’ attention to detail.
After investing so much energy for the first 30 plus minutes the sight of Harris hitting that trey for a seven-point lead in a game that had seen 13 lead changes and six ties was debilitating.
“A couple turnovers, a little mental lapse and they take over,” said Miller. “If we had eight more minutes of mental toughness in us . . . it would have been a whole different story.”
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