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TGW: It's a New Year

Nov. 19, 2015

In trying to keep up with the times, Georgia Tech has little choice but to shrink its bigs, and again tonight the Yellow Jackets – all of them — will need speed.

Don’t be fooled by Green Bay’s record. The Phoenix (0-2) lost at Stanford Friday night in overtime, and then fell Tuesday at East Tennessee State – after traveling from the West Coast and playing in Johnson City, Tenn., at 6 a.m. (Thanks, ESPN).

They were one of five teams to avoid losing consecutive games the past two seasons.

The Phoenix have players back from a 24-9 team that won last season at Miami, and 6-foot-1 senior point guard Carrington Love is no joke. He’s averaging 27 points, was there when Green Bay beat the Hurricanes, and a year earlier when the Phoenix dropped Virginia.

Green Bay has handled ACC teams, and done so without great size.

“They have probably the preseason player of the year in Love, and veteran guys . . . they’ve beaten Virginia and Miami. They had the game won at Stanford,” said head coach Brian Gregory. “They have quickness. They play with a lot of confidence, a lot of freedom on offense.”

Tech’s first two opponents, Cornell and Tennessee, have offered prep.

The Jackets found their defensive rhythm against Cornell in the second half, when they went, “small.” That worked because while Tech’s bigs were having no problem scoring against the Big Red, they struggled to keep up defensively.

Against the Vols, Gregory stuck with his bigs because the Jackets were getting beat on the boards even with them out there.

Charles Mitchell, Nick Jacobs, James White and Ben Lammers were up to the task. Their combined 16-for-31 shooting numbers didn’t match their 25-for-30 work in the Cornell game, but Jacobs and Mitchell owned the paint and these four grabbed 30 combined rebounds.

Their combined 10 blocked shots and five steals were critical.

“We didn’t play small against Tennessee … God forbid if we did, with the way we rebounded who knows what would have happened,” Gregory said Wednesday. “Our [power forwards] and [centers] have to continue to improve in terms of guarding the basketball, but also off the basketball.

“They’re used to guarding the post, so they didn’t have to give a lot of help [before], but with the way teams are playing and some of the teams we’re playing. Our big guys have to become much more diverse where we can take advantage of their size, but we can also guard on the perimeter.”

A 116-81 win over Cornell was fun, but the 69-67 victory over Tennessee was exactly what Dr. Gregory ordered and not just because Tech’s re-configured bigs were tested in ways that are becoming more common to the college game.

As in football, more teams are spreading out rather than packing it in.

The Jackets sorely needed to win a tight game.

Last season, the Jackets were 2-7 in games decided by one possession, and on two other occasions they were tied at the end of regulation only to lose in overtime.

“It’s great coming off last year,” said senior Marcus Georges-Hunt. “We lost a lot of close, tough games. In practice we do a lot of end-game situations . . . that it happened so early in the season, we did a lot of things to perfection.”

Gregory said, “I thought that was a great response. The defensive coverage on the last play was perfect … Great win for us, especially to gut it out at the end and find a way to win.”

Newcomers Jacobs, White and Adam Smith were important in putting down the Vols. They combined to score 34 points, led by Jacobs’ game-high 23, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked five shots.

Mitchell, who like Jacobs, White and Smith is a local young man who first went to college elsewhere, added 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in the second game of his second season since transferring from Maryland.

“We rotate faster, we’re able to make up for mistakes better,” Gregory said after the game. “Just active, long, athletic … defense is multiple efforts … We’re better at that. A little faster, more athletic, got a little more grit.”

Tech looks to have a better sense, a better feel for situation, and, oh yeah, a whole lot more athleticism in newcomers and returning players alike.

The Vols expanded their lead to 53-44 on Kevin Punter’s jumper with 14:31 to go — after consecutive offensive rebounds by Tennessee.

Tech tightened up, and starting moving with one example after another of improved athleticism. Tennessee made 5-of-25 shots the rest of the way. Most importantly, Tech pressured UT’s two primary ball handlers, Punter and Armani Moore, into 10 combined turnovers, and 9-of-31 shooting.

Tech’s run began with Jacobs tipping in a teammate’s miss, rising so quickly as to surprise the Vols, and trigger a 14-2 siege to wrestle back the game.

Moments later, Mitchell blocked a Moore shot, although it went out of bounds and back to the Vols. So, Mitchell stole it.

Soon, Mitchell – a much leaner, quicker version than you recall – blocked another shot, and not long after that Georges-Hunt stole from Moore to set up a Tadric Jackson dunk.

Mitchell’s next theft led to free throws by Georges-Hunt, and with 10:51 left in the game, the Jackets had a 56-55 lead they would never relinquish.

Immediately after Tech moved ahead, Punter slashed across the lane to try and regain the lead.

White, a 6-foot-8 forward/pogo stick from Jonesboro who graduated last summer from Arkansas-Little Rock, switched off his man and swatted Punter’s try. Quickly, the ball moved up court in Jackson’s hands. Just shy of the goal, he dropped the slickest of bounce passes for Jacobs to flush for a 58-55 lead.

White scored just once on seven shots, but it was a beauty.

After Georges-Hunt missed a pair of free throws, White went up as if launched, snared a rebound and floated in a lefty shot all in what seemed like a singular movement rather than a series of them.

“Yeah, how about that shot?” Gregory said after the game. “We couldn’t make those … we just couldn’t make ‘em; simple as that.”

The Jackets made just 1-of-8 shots down the stretch, and like White’s lone make on the night, Tech’s final shot was a gem.

Georges-Hunt missed a jumper, and twice White had his hands on the ball. In the midst of a scramble that saw the ball batted around and eventually down, Jacobs – who scored 17 of his 23 in the first half – bent down, grabbed it and in one movement without a hint of hesitation, took it up and banked it in.

That would be the game winner.

With 2:23 left, the Jackets led 69-64 and did not score again.

“That ball that Nick came up with and he just kind of scoops it up there, we never would have been able to do that,” Gregory said.

Georges-Hunt added a blocked shot in the waning moments of the game, just another example of how much more athletic the Jackets are this season than last. White blocked four shots and grabbed seven rebounds in just 16 minutes.

The 6-8 Mitchell, who like Jackson has shaved more than 20 pounds, added four steals and three blocked shots to his double-double.

“I think the weight loss of Chuck dramatically helped with that,” Gregory said of his more nimble team. “I think James’ athletic ability … Ben is a very intelligent defender – we played him at [power forward] in both those games. Our key is our depth and being able to adjust.”

Jacobs has hops inside, and is using them to try and shed a reputation for inconsistency. So, too, are the Jackets.

“Last year was tough, sitting there watching all the close games with my brothers,” he said. “I feel like [Monday] we took a step forward because last year we probably wouldn’t execute the way we did the last six seconds.”

Gregory also is ready to leave the past behind. To wash away the sour taste, the Jackets’ bigs are going to frequently leave the post.

“This is a new year. We don’t worry about the past, can’t do anything about the past,” the coach said. “You need to build on ways to win games, figure out ways to win games, and our team … figured that out. We got knocked down. We were on the mat, and we responded.”

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