Feb. 8, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
For most of the season, Georgia Tech’s inability to get to the foul line was the team’s biggest problem.
On Sunday afternoon, in their 75-68 loss to No. 17/15 Miami, they got to the foul line just fine. The problem came once they got there.
Final stats say the Jackets were out-shot from the line 21-16, their ninth time in 10 ACC games, but 10 of those FTAs came in the game’s final minute, with the Jackets desperate for possessions.
The foul shots with the biggest impact actually came with Tech at the line and much earlier on.
It was a 2-for-9 cold snap that began with 13:11 to play and Tech trailing 46-44 and didn’t conclude until a little more than a minute remained and the Jackets down 66-62. Three of the misses came from Marcus Georges-Hunt, the team’s best free throw shooter at 82.6 percent, 84.5 in ACC play, and Tadric Jackson, who’d made 11 of his last 14 free throw attempts.
“When you’re battling a top-20 team and you have a chance with three minutes to go and it’s a one-possession game, when you get fouled, you need to go to the free throw line and make them,” said Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory. “We were 2-for-9 during that stretch, and two of them were front ends of one-and-one. Those are just empty possessions that – you’re playing against one of the better defensive teams in the league, and you’re shooting 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the three. When you get fouled you need to capitalize on that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”
“It just comes down to concentration,” explained Georges-Hunt, the Jackets’ leading scorer with 19 points. “We practice it every day. I had two, one went in and out, that was kind of tough, but the second one hit the back of the rim. It’s just concentration and focus and same rhythm. Just lock in.”
That stretch from the line aside, Jackson had a superb game, scoring 13 points, his second straight double-digit game and Adam Smith added 14.
Tech also was uncharacteristically loose with the ball, as they committed 14 turnovers (Miami had only six), while getting only 13 assists — Georges-Hunt had five assists vs. four turnovers, his first game in five with more than two miscues.
“That’s not who we are,” said Gregory, whose team had more turnovers than assists for only the second time in ACC play. “You could probably get away with that if you go to the free throw line and make your free throws, but you can’t combine those two.”
That combination proved deadly and took away from the fact that they had played with great resolve throughout and shot tremendously everywhere BUT from the line.
The Jackets took a couple of the Hurricanes’ best shots. They overcame the disappointment of leading for most of the first half before falling behind, 33-32, on Miami’s last possession of the first half. They’d led by five late but Miami closed on an 11-5 run. Tech led for 15:57 of the half. They then allowed a three from Miami super-star guard Sheldon McClellan on the first possession of the second half.
The Jackets survived that second punch in the mouth by shooting 54.2 percent, 66,7 from three (4-of-6) in the second half and also tightened up on the defensive boards.
Tech had been uncharacteristically beaten on the offensive boards, 7-3, over the first 20 minutes, but turned the tables in the second half, winning the boards 16-15 and offensive glass, 7-3.
“I was not pleased with our defensive rebounds in the first half,” said Gregory. “They play with great length and athletic ability. I don’t think we had any guard rebounds in the first half. We did a better job of shoring that up in the second half.”
“They got second-chance points in the beginning of the game,” said forward Charles Mitchell. “We couldn’t control the defensive rebounds in the beginning of the game, so the second-chance points off offensive rebounds gave them opportunities to get open shots off the kickouts.”
Mitchell, who pulled down a season-low two rebounds — he used the word “terrible” four times in his 11-word answer when asked about his rebounding — gave credit to the ‘Canes, especially 7-0 Tonye Jekiri, who grabbed a game-high nine boards.
“Sometimes, as bigs, you have to realize you’re not as athletic as the bigs you’re playing and if you don’t put a body on them they can tip the ball out to the guards,” he said. “They got a few offensive rebounds in the second half but we didn’t maximize in the first half.”
Mitchell felt the effort was there all game and, despite the free throw mishaps and turnovers, the game was still in the balance until late. All they needed was a break. Unfortunately the big break they got was a bad one.
With 1:49 left and Miami up 63-60, Hurricanes’ sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton threw up a desperation, fadeaway three, barely beating the shot clock and just eluding Mitchell, who is six inches taller and was in his face. The prayer rainbowed in. It was Newton’s only three-point field goal and attempt of the game.
“We had a great defensive possession,” said Gregory. “Sometimes when things ain’t going great those things happen. Things are going well for Miami and the guy makes that shot. It’s a fadeaway three over a post guy that brought rain down. But part of this game is making plays.”
“I was basically hugging and kissing him,” said Mitchell, trying to finding room to laugh the shot off. “Plays like that, that’s just pure luck. I can’t explain it. We played the right defense, had the right coverage at the end of the shot clock. They were hoping they make the shot and we KNOW that we played the right defense and there’s going to get a rebound. So when the shot goes in it’s kind of a heartbreaker. You’re like, ‘Dang, We played 30 seconds of great defense and that’s the shot you get.’ You can’t worry about it.”
The Jackets have until Wednesday to regroup, as they face Wake Forest at McCamish — finally getting a break from the top-25 onslaught.
For Georges-Hunt, it doesn’t matter who’s coming in. His approach won’t change.
“The way I look at it is you just have to win each day,” he said. “In practice you have to go in and give it all you’ve got. When a game comes around you have to win that day. When you wake up in the morning, you find ways how to win that specific day. Just try to win each day.”