Feb. 24, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory had to see the irony as he spoke about Clemson following the Yellow Jackets’ 75-73 win over the Tigers Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
“They’ve had a couple of tough losses, and they played well,” he said.
If anyone can understand being on the wrong side of an ACC game decided by six-or-fewer points it’s Gregory, who has heard those words far too often about his team, which has lost nine ACC games by an average of 6.7 points. On Tuesday, the Yellow Jackets made it four times in the last five games that they’ve been on the right side of a close decision, with the four wins decided by 16 points, the last two of those coming by a total of three points, with the winning points coming with two and three seconds remaining.
Tech’s head man didn’t openly relish being on the right side of yet another close game, so much as the mindset and resolve that got his team there.
In beating the Tigers for only the second time in 14 meetings, the Jackets turned around a lackluster defensive first half, in which Clemson shot 52.9 percent, 53.8 from three and 50.0 from three (1-for-2), coming back from 13 down early in the second half — matching the largest deficit overcome in the Gregory Era — and countering a late, game-tying shot, with a smartly run, perfectly executed play, then getting a stop.
The effort and resolve didn’t surprise Gregory.
“We’ve always fought,” he said. “Every disappointment, every tough time, every bit of adversity just kind of sets it up for where you are right now. It’s all part of the process and the guys just have to keep fighting through it and that’s what they’ve done. The guys get all the credit for that. Men of lesser character would not have gotten to this point. They just wouldn’t. They get all the credit for that.”
Georges-Hunt showed why he’s the current ACC Player of the Week, pouring in a game-high 25 points, the final two coming at the foul line with three seconds remaining to snap a 73-73 tie, while Smith scored 20 points, 15 of them in the second half, hitting hit five of his nine shots and three of his four three-point attempts. He was electrifying down the stretch, scoring 15 of Tech’s final 20 points in spurts of seven and eight unanswered points.
Georges-Hunt also guarded, shutting down Clemson’s big gun — and Georges-Hunt’s AAU teammate — Blossomgame, who was all but unstoppable in the first half, scoring 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 3-for-4 from three. He’d score only five points on 2-for-8. The Tigers would similarly fade, shooting 39.3 percent.
“[The first half] was just bad ball-screen coverage on our part,” said Georges-Hunt. “During halftime we changed up our schemes and matchups and did a great job. The matchups that Coach B.G. and the staff came up with was perfect for what we had to do in the second half.”
B.G. also had the perfect plan after what could have been a devastating, game-tying three by Donte Grantham, to tie the game at 73. He did not take timeout and Georges-Hunt raced up court, went straight at the rim and got fouled by Blossomgame.
Ironically, a play NOT followed came next. After making the first foul shot, Georges-Hunt made the second shot — one he was told to miss. It wouldn’t hurt, as Blossomgame caught the long, looping inbounds pass in front of his three-point line, dribbled to around 15 feet away and launched, but his shot went hard off the backboard.
Tech got back in the game by dominating on the glass, outrebounding Clemson 17-9. Two key — albeit understated — players in that regard were sophomore center Ben Lammers, who matched his ACC highs with seven rebounds and four blocks, in 21 minutes, and senior forward Quinton Stephens, making his third straight start, and pulling in seven rebounds for the third straight game.
“No one will recognize what Ben Lammers did in this game, or Quinton Stephens, because it gets overshadowed by Marcus,” said Gregory. “Quinton Stephens is quietly making a huge impact — seven rebounds again tonight and made three threes. He had a couple of good looks and they were all good shots. And Ben was tremendous — seven rebounds, six of them on the defensive end. The four blocks — the block on (Donte) Grantham probably saved the day, because the way he’d been shooting he wasn’t going to miss that. He’s a really good player, and we got 21 minutes out of him in a game of this magnitude. That was huge.”
“They did a great job but I think us as a group just kept reminding each other, ‘We have to keep those guys off the glass,’” said Georges-Hunt. “Q was very active on the glass and Ben was all over the place. He did a great job tonight.”
The Jackets have done a great job lately and are playing as a confident unit. Even when they were down 13 on Tuesday, the Jackets never panicked.
“As a group we’re confident,” said Smith. “We have different people, people like [Charles Mitchell] and Nick [Jacobs], even Q, he steps up in moments like that. It’s just one possession at a time. That’s all that’s in everyone’s mind. We know, we’re really confident in our offense. It’s the defense that you really have to dig in in moments like that. You’re down 13 early in the second half. Just one possession at a time on defense. Stop, rebound, the offense will take care of itself. We trusted it, we believed it. Before we knew it we were right there.”
Georges-Hunt believes the team is right where it needs to be headed toward postseason.
“[It’s] Just confidence. We’ve been there so many times you have to get sick and tired of it and you have to do something about it. Taking on the challenge to execute in the last four minutes,” he said. “The last couple of games we’ve been doing a great job at that. Everybody’s calm. It doesn’t look like they’re speeding up. We just run the play and try to execute and we get what we want for the most part. At the beginning of the year, yes, we had some possessions where we were trying to speed up and we’d sometimes miss easy layups and putbacks. But I try to let the past be the past and try to focus on what’s ahead. You learn from the past but you move on and you better yourself and your teammates.
“I’m a believer,” he added. “Now, it’s a great feeling to have a group of guys that want the best for each other. That’s what a team is. When it’s a group of guys that wants to win and want the best for each other, everything clicks and you win games like this, close games.”