Dec. 20, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Tadric Jackson wore a bandage over his right eye as he took the McCamish Pavilion floor Sunday afternoon to play Alcorn State.
Underneath was a cut that came in a 50-50 drill which resulted in Jackson, one of the team’s top shooters, getting busted open.
Welcome to one of those, ‘Oh NO!’ moments that every coach fears just prior to a game, right?
“On Friday and Saturday he dove on the floor like five times, and he’s never done that before. He busted his eye. He had blood coming down,” said Tech coach Josh Pastner. “The guys were clapping and wanted to carry him off like we were Super Bowl champs. He’s never done that. He dove on the floor and he had a bloody eye and he was right back up ready to practice. I was proud of him. That’s a big step for him. The guys were pumped up for him and he wanted to continue practice. I made him go see the trainer and he had to get a butterfly on his eye.”
This wasn’t Coach-speak. Jackson’s teammates offered the same account.
“I thought it was great! I think it looks good,” said senior forward Quinton Stephens of Jackson’s bandage. ”We had a couple of guys dive on the floor, and he got a nice little scar. He got up.”
“[Athletic trainer Richard Stewart] had to patch him up a little bit, because he was bleeding a fair amount, but he got right back in when he was ready,” added junior center Ben Lammers.
“Which is good,” Stephens chimed in. “We definitely need that energy from all the guys, the guys that got on the floor first and then him getting there himself.”
The Jackets were falling over each other in the Sunday postgame with the same vigor verbally that they were doing so literally on Friday and Saturday, resulting in the temporary stoppage of practice and resulting medical attention for Jackson.
The stoppage, call it “Get a Stich From Rich,” is a complete 180 from the way practices are usually stopped and a player sent off the floor, ala Pastner’s “Go See Dan,” (strength coach Dan Taylor), the form of punishment from not going hard enough.
It’s the result coming from the kind of effort and energy that Pastner has demanded from his team all year long and was made even more exciting by seeing that Jackson was the one involved — the cut notwithstanding.
“[Jackson] came right back in and that’s a BIG change for him, because in the spring or in the summer or even early fall he would have been out maybe six days,” said Pastner breaking into a grin. “To his credit he came right back in. That’s the improvement he’s made. I’m very, very proud of him for that. That he took it as a badge of honor that he got bloodied up and came right back in.”
This fearlessness in hitting the floor then bouncing back up regardless of floorburns or blood flow is not limited to Jackson or to practice. It’s become a team-wide mentality that has taken root in games as well as practice.
It starts in practice, specifically in a drill Pastner’s implemented that encourages guys to hit the floor. It’s showing up in gamers with a trademark energy and effort that Pastner is starting to see in every game. It certainly was evident on Sunday.
“That is very important to me, winning 50/50 balls,” Pastner said. “That is something that we’ve practiced every day. We put the bubble up in our practice where the shot can’t go in so constantly the ball is flying all over, and we’re diving on the floor. If guys aren’t diving on the floor, then we blow the whistle and the whole team is running.”
On Sunday afternoon against Alcorn State, the Jackets were all over the 50/50s, holding a 15-3 edge at the half by Pastner’s account. Tech forced four steals and 10 turnovers, and forged a 6-2 edge in fastbreak points, a 14-11 edge on points off turnovers, and, most important, a 39-22 lead.
“That lead we had in the first half was strictly based on 50/50 balls,” Pastner said. “We won that battle and that’s a key emphasis that we talk about all the time.”
“They did a good job. They came up with, I think, maybe every 50/50 ball,” said Braves coach Montez Robinson. “The ball bounced around, we had our hands on it and they would come up with it. It’s just like in football, you tell your guys to keep going toward the guy that’s running and group tackle. They were going after the ball. The ball was bouncing and they were sending three or four guys after it and we were standing there picking flowers in a lot of situations.”
The Jackets certainly noticed.
“I think we all came out with an attack mentality so that definitely helped us with the 50/50 balls,” said Lammers, who recorded a 12-13 double-double (he had 10 rebounds at the half) his sixth double-double of the season. “I think that was a big part in why we were able to get such a big lead early on.”
Tech also dominated the boards (25-12 at the half, 46-31 overall) and the offensive boards (14-5, 18-10), led by Lammers and Stephens, who account for all nine of Tech’s double-doubles this season.
It all goes back to that drill.
“Whenever it’s a rebounding only drill, when they have the bubble up, it’s almost anything goes,” said Lammers with a laugh. “It’s a lot of fouling I guess but it makes you more aggressive and it does help you in the game because compared to the bubble drills rebounding in a real game is nothing.”
“Ben and I were joking about it. You hit the other guy as hard as you can and you go get the rebound,” said Stephens, who just missed his fourth double-double of the year, going 11-8. “That’s one of our most competitive times in practice, actually. Everyone really locks in and you have to do your job. You have to hit the guy first and offensively, you get two points and we’re trying to get to 10 first.”
Stephens’ only regret against Alcorn, was his tongue-in-cheek reference to a couple of 50/50 balls on rebounds in which he did NOT knock teammate Abdoulaye Gueye off of, costing him the double-double.
“I fought over a couple with A.D., I was like, ‘Man, I could have had those last two,’” Stephens said, with a laugh. “But we were all rebounding. A.D. had six rebounds (third behind only Lammers and Stephens) so we were really attacking the glass.”
They’ll all be really attacking the glass with some extra fire on Tuesday night at sold-out McCamish (a 7 p.m. tip-off) against Georgia. Tech has won four of five in the rivalry and is 2-0 at McCamish, but is is looking to bounce back from last year’s 75-61 loss in Athens.
For Stephens, it’s his last battle with the Bulldogs. He is a very different player than the sophomore who hung 22 on Georgia in the 2014-15 season-opening win, nailing seven threes in the process. The 22 and seven are both career highs.
Pastner welcomes the difference.
“Quinton has totally changed his game,” said Pastner. “You see Quinton on the glass, the way he’s flying all over the place. He’s doing things he has never done. He has totally changed his game for the better.”
Stephens also says “Vive la difference,” as much about his new game as this new team with it’s new style as it prepares to take on Georgia Tech’s oldest rival.
“I’m really excited just to play with this team that we have,” he said. “It’s a totally new look and I’m ready for all of us to experience that. Whether it’s Alcorn State or Georgia, we’re going to prepare, we’re going to make sure Georgia Tech is ready and we’ll be ready.”
They’re ready and willing to fight as a unit, be it on the floor against an opponent or diving on the floor against each other.
“I think all of our teammates, we’re all having a good time. We have a pretty close-knit group,” Stephens said. “I think we’re closer because we DO go though the battles in practice and we talk about it after practice and we have meals together. It’s just a different style.”