Dec. 31, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
As we prepare to flip the calendar page from 2014 to 2015, so does Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball, saying farewell to what has been long, hard non-conference slate of games.
But as the Yellow Jackets sing Auld Lang Syne to the 2014 portion of their season, they do so leaving on a high note, finishing 9-3 and concluding the slate with a physically grinding, mentally taxing 67-66 win over Charlotte Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
It’s the kind of character-building win that showed just how far they’ve come and what they expect the rest of the way. On the whole they feel they’re in a good place.
“I’d like to be 12-0 but we played a pretty difficult schedule,” said Coach Brian Gregory, whose team played six teams in the top-100 RPI. “I think we’ve played better in terms of the last four games. We didn’t play well the last game out but we played really hard. Our three-point defense was much better today.
“I’m very proud of our guys. We needed to show some heart, character, and some toughness there at the end,” he added. “We made some crucial plays down five. You can go down the list. got an offensive rebound, gets fouled and makes both free throws. We get a couple of crucial stops. was a little banged up, but comes up with a big defensive stop on an easy fast break basket, knocks the ball away. Travis [Jorgenson] makes a big three for us. made a couple of clutch baskets in the second half when we couldn’t score. He made a couple of big plays for us. So a lot of guys did a lot of good things. The guy that probably came to the forefront for
us was Marcus. That assertiveness, that aggressiveness, 25 [points] and seven [rebounds] is a heck of an effort against a high-quality team like Charlotte.”
Tuesday’s game was one where the three-point shot was pretty much non-existent — the teams shot a combined for 4-for-32 with Tech guard Chris Bolden hitting more three-pointers (two) than the entire Charlotte team — as was play pretty much everywhere but outside the paint as 105 of the 133 points came in the lane or at the line.
“Watching them play earlier in the season, when they played Miami, they put up a great fight so I knew it was going to be a tough game, a man’s game,” said Georges-Hunt, who set a career-high (his previous high was 23 on Feb. 1, 2014 at Wake Forest.). “Everybody had to come
Defensively, Tech withstood the physical play of the 49ers, who get 43 percent of its points inside (GT averages 33.0 percent of
its points in the lane) while also clamping down at the three-point line, holding Charlotte, which came in shooting .379, among the best in Conference USA, to 1-for-13. While Gregory admitted the Jackets struggled some with matchups in the second half, when Charlotte had a 30-20 edge in points in the paint, he was proud of the defensive effort leading to key stops late as the 49ers missed their final four field goal attempts, with their last basket coming with 2:11 left.
Offensively, Georges-Hunt came up big, shooting 9-for-16, 5-for-8 in the second half, and making all seven free throw attempts. His efficiency personified that of the Jackets. While only four players attempted free throws, they were all very accurate, as Tech was 14 of 16.
Sampson went 3-for-4, hitting two big ones with 2:33 to go give the Jackets a 63-62 lead, while Stephens was 3-for-3 (Charles Mitchell was 1-for-2). They also hit the offensive boards, grabbing 15 (to Charlotte’s 11) and turning them in 17 points.
Tech’s mental tenacity was challenged, as the Jackets saw a 12-point lead with 1:46 left in the half (eight at the break), dissipate within five minutes of the second half and they trailed by as much as five inside of six minutes remaining. But they’d close on a 15-9 run, taking the
lead with 2.8 seconds left, the seventh and final lead change in the final 4:14, and 12th of the second half.
Travis Jorgenson took advantage of some rest during the Christmas break, playing a career-high 26 minutes, handing out five assists, including one on the winning basket by Georges-Hunt, (vs. one turnover) and hitting a crucial three-pointer with 4:36 to play and Tech down four. He also impressed with his defense, holding his counterpart Braxton Ogbueze to 1-for-8 shooting (0-for-4 from three).
“He came back from Missouri and said he felt really good,” said Gregory. “That was a big three. He’s shooting the ball a little better for us. He had five assists and one turnover. That’s a good game for him. He was pretty good defensively, too. He did a good job.”
Georges-Hunt showed the kind of aggressiveness Gregory is looking for.
“Just being more aggressive, more assertive,” he said. “That’s what Coach asks of me, to lead and do all the little things; lead by example. Just go out and play hard.”
Georges-Hunt and Jorgenson combined for the winning bucket, helped out by a tremendous pick by Sampson at mid-court. They worked the play Gregory drew up in a timeout prior to the go-ahead free throw by Charlotte’s Pierria Henry with 11 seconds remaining.
“Our guys executed the play perfectly,” said Gregory. “[There are] multiple options on that. It’s a read. It wasn’t like [Jorgensen] was the first, [Stephens] was the second and Marcus was the third. It’s ‘You go and now you have to read the defense.’ He read it perfectly.
“Marcus did a great job,” he added. “So many times other guys stand around and watch. Marcus moved into the correct position and Travis hit him. He attacked the basket. Give our guys the credit because Robert Sampson set a great screen for Travis, we got the ball on the run, which is what you want to do, and Travis made a heck of a play and Marcus finished with authority. That was a bigtime finish.”
“I just played off of Travis,” said Georges-Hunt. “When Travis drives down the middle there’s always a guy in the corner. I saw Henry overplaying it so I stood there for a little bit and back-doored a little bit and that gave me the momentum to go in for the lay-up.”
Execution, free-throw shooting, defending, and mental toughness are all facets that will be necessary starting Saturday, when the Yellow Jackets take the floor in South Bend, Ind., in their ACC opener against Notre Dame.
“We’ve got a ways to go but as I’ve said before, I like this team because I think it’s a team that is constantly evolving and getting better and that different nights different guys have stepped up,” said Gregory. “We’re going to make some shots. We’re getting some good looks. So we just need to keep shooting them.”
Georges-Hunt believes the team has some momentum heading into ACC play, momentum it’s worked hard to build.
“I saw over the summer, the way the guys put in work, we all put in work. They were hungry, they wanted to learn,” he said. “We still are learning. We learn from each game, from a win or a loss. I think we should have won a couple more games but that’s in the past. We can only move forward.”