March 13, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word.
No, it did not go the way it was drawn up because no coach ever builds a game plan or dreams of contingencies for a contest in which his team will go without a field goal for some 10 minutes over the late second half and overtime.
Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jackets were able to squeeze out soft smiles Wednesday night, however, because when you win, the screen play matters less than the fact the picture was made, paid for and there were credits to prove all of it.
This was true after Tech’s 73-70 win over Boston College in the first round of the ACC Tournament gave the Jackets their first postseason win of any kind in four years. That equated to a big, “Yes!”
Robert Carter Jr. was leading man, the Indiana Jones of a flick where the Jackets (16-16, 6-12) looked frightfully capable of taking on their worst loss of the season for the second March in a row to the same Eagles.
He scored a team-high 20 points, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, blocked two shots and played so significantly as to cause one to wonder what the season would have been like if he hadn’t missed the first 10 ACC games with a bum knee.
Last spring, Tech jumped out to a 15-0 lead against B.C. only to have Eagles freshman Olivier Hanlan scorch the Jackets for 41 points in a Boston College triumph.
There were moments Wednesday when the same vibe built.
Carter’s tip-in of a missed Trae Golden shot with 5:30 left in regulation gave Tech a 61-49 lead. Then, BC closed regulation with a 13-1 run to force OT.
The Jackets pulled out just enough of Jones’ whip, though, to force themselves to .500 (16-16, 6-12 ACC) and earn a date today with Clemson.
It took a little bit of chit-chat among the guys to hang on.
“[We were] Just talking to each other, encouraging each other, letting everybody know not to panic; we’re still up,” Carter recalled. “We lost a pretty big lead or whatever, but just coming in the huddle, making sure . . . we was trying to figure out a way to win.
“And that’s all we was worried about in the huddle was trying to figure out a way to win, not let this one get away, and that’s what happened.”
Who thought that the Jackets would go nearly forever from there without scoring but from the free-throw line? The game looked to be in the bag, much as that fancy golden idol was stuffed in Jones’ little sack in that South American temple.
Yet skies overhead darkened – in a different way than when the Greensboro Coliseum lights went dim in the first half – and doom began descending. It turned out Tech was in no temple, but perhaps in a booby trap.
The Jackets had surged to that lead with a massive 12-2 edge in offensive rebounds but would grab just one more over the rest of the game.
There was only one field goal by the Jackets in the final 10, and it was Golden.
Before that, misery as Boston College closed regulation hard.
What was happening?
They could not guard lightly-regarded B.C. forward Patrick Heckman, and to be transparent, a lot of that fell on Carter.
Hey, even Indiana fell short from time to time, which often led Jones into the trouble that afforded the opportunity for heroism downstream.
Heckman averaged 5.5 points this season on 43 percent shooting, but he kept blowing past the bigger Carter from the perimeter and getting to the rim.
The 6-foot-5, 23-year-old junior from Germany was a menace, making six of the eight shots that he took (including half his four 3-pointers-, and throwing in a 7-for-10 night at the free throw line.
He was more like Detlef Schrempf than himself.
Tech head coach Brian Gregory on the other hand, verged on insanity.
Down the stretch, Tech’s boss frequently subbed the quicker Kammeon Holsey for Carter in defensive situations, and the fifth-year senior would eventually pay serious, serious offensive dividends as well.
Indeed, Carter had sidekicks of import, much like Jones.
Fellow sophomore Marcus Georges-Hunt played his most complete game in weeks even if many of his shots were crooked. He made just 4-of-13, yet added 8-for-11 work from the charity stripe on a night where Tech made 22-of-29 free throws, like BC to the decimal point.
And while Mr. Golden also struggled from afield in a 4-for-13 game, he nailed all five of his free throws, pitched in a game-high six assists and had just one turnover in 39 minutes – his first in three games.
Don’t discount, either, the value of Tech’s other guards, Cameron Heyward and Chris Bolden, as they combined for nine rebounds while the Jackets built a 41-30 edge on the boards. Heyward went turnover-free for the third straight game (in 27 minutes) and Bolden miscued but once (in 23 minutes).
But for all the good, there was plenty of troublesome.
Tech missed its final four shots in regulation; the Eagles scored on their last six possessions.
Carter split two free throws with 33 seconds left for a 62-61 lead, and Hanlan split a pair with 5.2 left to tie it up.
Golden’s full-court drive and jack-up near the buzzer scarcely had a chance.
Nine of Tech’s 11 points in the bonus period came from the free throw line. The Jackets missed their first two shots in overtime before a Carter steal led to a possession finished by two Georges-Hunt free throws.
Tech, however, trailed 67-66 when BC’s Lonnie Jackson missed a trey with 1:10 in OT, and Heyward did well to corral an awkward rebound.
After a timeout call by Tech, Golden bulled his way and hoisted over a Heckman challenge near the goal.
Off the glass the ball went, and then down through the cylinder.
This was a happy time, with 35.3 up above. There was more mirth when a whistle blew, and a zebra pointed at Heckman.
Golden’s final free throw pushed the Jackets up 69-67 and that lead never would be lost. That groin muscle may not be whole, but it’s less partial than it was for a while.
“That shot that he made to win us the game, and you can ask him, two weeks ago he couldn’t make that play,” Gregory said.
“You can still see it sometimes, he’s not as explosive as he was earlier in the year, but at least every once in a while he was able to turn up the gear and he was able to do that on that play, and that was a big one. We’re a much better team with those guys.”
Holsey grabbed two defensive rebounds after that — in Carter’s stead – and made four straight free throws after each.
There were re-writes to the scripts.
The good guys won, though, and that mattered most as the Jackets earned a third date with Clemson, whom they had a air shot at beating in each previous meeting – the first time without Carter, and the second time when he missed all five of his shots off the bench while still knocking off rust in his return from injury.
Carter is now beasting, as some would say, averaging 17.4 points and 8.4 rebounds in the past five games – all since that Clemson 0-fer.
The return to health of him and Golden has been huge in a three-game ACC winning streak.
“Well, it changes it quite a bit. I think . . . we were just about to get Robert back, and then Trae went out. So one of the problems is you never really get into a really good flow . . . you’re just trying to get guys back in or trying to get guys recovered, and that’s kind of where we’ve been at for the last two months.
“It’s only been over the last two weeks . . . we’ve been able to practice and concentrate with these two guys in the lineup in terms of what we need to do in improving. We’re a different team, there’s no question about it.”
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