Jan. 12, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Now, that was what Brian Gregory has been talking about!
From the moment he was hired to coach Georgia Tech’s basketball team, the coach had gone on and on both about playing a specific, tough brand of ball and rebuilding the Yellow Jackets’ hoop vibe.
There was mood aplenty Saturday in McCamish Pavilion, where the Jackets played well yet lost a 15-point cushion, came to trail late, and then dug in as if with fingernails to pull back a 74-69 win over Notre Dame.
Trae Golden’s 3-pointer with 44 seconds left was enormous, Chris Bolden’s pair of free throws with 10 seconds to go were big, Daniel Miller was big over and over, and the end result was more the a “W.”
The nature of that victory – after the Jackets put themselves in position to blow what looked for a while like a one-sided win – meant something more.
Seniors Miller (10 points, 13 rebounds, four blocked shots, two assists and two steals), Golden (20 points, four assists) and Kam Holsey (13 points on 6-for-9 shooting with seven rebounds) were each at times stellar.
Bolden rediscovered his lost shooting touch (4-for-8 on 3-pointers), and Tech executed down the stretch for one of the finer wins of the still-young Gregory era.
“I would never de-value the importance of this kind of game in the long run,” the coach said. “When you’ve played well for 35 minutes and you’re not able to finish the game off that hurts.
“So to do this, get down and come back and win, is great. The one thing that is our biggest challenge though is sustaining. Did we learn from that?”
Maybe the Jackets learned from losing their grip late in a couple games earlier this season.
For a while, they lost it Saturday.
Tech (10-6, 1-2 ACC) led by as many as 13 points in the first half, and when Golden hit a jumper with 14:03 left in the game the Jackets had their biggest lead, 54-39.
The Irish (10-6, 1-2) scored the next 13 points, however, as the Jackets missed 10 straight shots and mixed in a couple turnovers in that stretch.
Still, with McCamish rocking to remind fans of days gone by in the old Alexander Memorial Coliseum, it took a while for Notre Dame to pass the home team.
Soon after Holsey was called for setting a moving screen, the Irish tied the game at 62 on an Austin Burgett pump-fake jumper, and the visitors took their first lead (64-62) on Pat Connaughton’s jumper with 4:00 to go.
The Jackets did not look so secure here as the lead traded hands a few times, but they didn’t appear lost, either. Notre Dame was making nice plays; the Jackets weren’t botching them.
Eventually, having worked so hard to pull themselves back in the game, the Irish ran a little low on energy down the stretch and the Jackets – likely fueled by the energy of the home crowd – firmed over the final minute-plus.
“When you’re digging out of those holes, it’s exhausting,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “Sometimes you almost don’t deserve to win the game because of how you started the game and how you started the half.”
Notre Dame center Garrick Sherman gave the Irish their last lead, 68-67 on a layup as he reversed under the backboard with 1:15 left.
He, like Miller, is a fifth-year player and after missing his first nine shots Saturday he played like it to finish with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Golden brought the ball down, and the Jackets worked it around. He got it back high above the left elbow and let it fly . . . bam! With 44 seconds left, the Jackets led 70-68 and would not trail again.
The transfer from Tennessee was relatively quiet in the second half after scoring 15 in the first, but that was the biggest shot of the afternoon.
“He is a tough one to handle,” Brey said. “His strength is hard to deal with. He’s barreling down on you all the time. It’s kind of hard to guard him without fouling because he’s so physical.
“He made a big shot and he’s the guy who has made big shots for them. When he took it, I’m thinking, `I wish he wasn’t taking this.’ “
Bolden made a pair of free throws for a 72-69 lead with 10 seconds left, and freshman Quinton Stephens added two more with four seconds as the Jackets closed much stronger from the free throw line than they began.
McCamish was pulsing.
“Our guys played with great intensity, but all that did was match the intensity that was in the arena,” Gregory said. “Great crowd, students were tremendous and just into it the whole game. We hadn’t been home in over a month. That’s a long time and we needed this.”
There should be no discounting the importance of that energy.
Even Brey acknowledged it when asked about the atmosphere in the ACC versus what Notre Dame previously encountered in the Big East.
“That was a great atmosphere,” said the Notre Dame coach. “The one thing I tried to tell our fans and our team going into the ACC is that it’s going to be harder to win on the road than in the Big East because everything is an on-campus facility.
“We’d play Georgetown down in the Verizon Center, we’d buy a lot of tickets. When we’d play DePaul in the All State Arena, we’d buy tickets. We’d play Villanova downtown where the 76ers play.
“None of that happens in the ACC playing on the road, and today was the ultimate. Their fans were great. Their fans gave them probably the confidence to win the basketball game.”
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