Jan. 7, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
– Duke’s up next, which is nearly always a big deal, and for Georgia Tech it will be bigger tonight in Cameron Indoor Stadium because Big Robert Carter, Jr., will be absent.
Today, he’ll have knee surgery and a few hours later the Yellow Jackets will operate on themselves as coach Brian Gregory and his players try to backfill behind a power forward emerging as one of the ACC’s most diverse talents.
Robert Carter, Jr., twisted his knee last week in a win at Charlotte, and before the Jackets opened ACC play Saturday with a loss at Maryland, Gregory and Co. learned via MRI that Carter likely has torn cartilage.
It’s up to three players to fill Carter’s minutes. That’s a big deal because he is not only the Jackets’ third-leading scorer with an average of 10.3 points per game, but Tech’s leading rebounder at 9.3.
Senior forward/center Kammeon Holsey (6.6, 5.4), who has attributes of Carter’s power game, and freshman swingman Quinton Stephens (3.6, 2.5) and senior swing Jason Morris (2.5, 3.0) – both of whom are quite different in playing style than Carter – will tag team.
So, does Gregory ask them to be more like Carter or change what he wants to do as a team to better fit what they’re capable of doing?
“We need to change some of the stuff that we do because Robert is the one guy out of those four who has proven his ability to score around the basket, score away from the basket, rebound in traffic and range rebound,” the coach said. “He’s one of the best defensive rebounders in the league.”
Morris’ role is changing the most.
This will be his third straight start after missing the first third of the season with recurring foot issues. He has a steel plate in the sole of his left shoe. He says it weighs about a pound.
That’s not as heavy as what’s going on in his head.
Now, he’s also playing some “power” forward when that spot is not manned by Holsey or Stephens. That’s quite an adjustment for the 6-foot-5 ½ wing with the big smile.
“We had to put in so many new plays because we’re without Robert, and I’m having to learn,” Morris said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, act like you do and go 100 miles per hour.”
Without Carter, the offensive design changes, particularly when either Morris or Stephens is playing that bigger forward spot. Gregory is not going to ask them to bang around in the paint as much.
Rather than running a twin-post attack with senior center Daniel Miller and Carter, which the Jackets will continue when Holsey is at power forward, when Stephens or Morris or in there, Tech will look bit different offensively.
“We need to take advantage when Jason and Q are in that spot where we are playing more of a four-out-one-in look with Daniel or Kam [at center] because Kam will play the five when Daniel is out,” Gregory said.
That means more motion on offense, more trying to sneak Stephens or Morris into a corner or a hole in the opposing defense for a jumper. As Holsey said, “we want them to drag their bigs out [of the paint].”
Holsey’s job doesn’t change much other than the fact that where he normally splits his time backing up both Carter and Miller while generally playing alongside one or the other, he’s now going to play less with Miller at the same time.
He’ll play more backup center than power forward – at least in theory.
“The only thing I can do is continue to be aggressive, and be careful not to get in foul trouble because the team needs me on the court,” he said. “It’s the same thing. The only thing that’s different is my minutes [at each spot].”
The Jackets started slowly, very slowly, at Maryland Saturday in their first game without Carter. They looked lost. For the last 35 minutes, however, they played the Terrapins mostly even.
Duke is not as big or physical as Maryland, against whom Carter was sorely missed. On paper at least, the Blue Devils are a matchup more agreeable with the Jackets especially with Tech all but forced to go smaller more often.
Notre Dame beat Duke the other day largely on the strength of interior play. Tech’s interior play has been diminished by Carter’s injury.
“You have to kind of evolve differently now … One third of our [interior] attack is no longer there, but Daniel and Kam need to continue to be aggressive,” Gregory said. “There is going to be half the game where we’re playing with more of a stretch player instead of a post player [at power forward]
“In terms of the combinations, you’re going to see us at least 20 minutes playing with a much different lineup than in the first 13 games. When Kam is in we go more or less with our traditional offense. When Jason or Quinton are in there … you don’t necessarily have those options.”
Morris said, “I take it as respect that coach trusts me to help fill that void. You take the challenge on head first. If I make a mistake at the four [power forward spot] while playing with a two [shooting guard] mindset, I’ve got to make up for it with energy and cutting twice as hard.”
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