Feb. 17, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
For the first time in a while, Georgia Tech went about the process of basketball Sunday night without over thinking, and instead the Yellow Jackets just played ball – for the most part — and it paid off.
The result was worthwhile: the Jackets beat Clemson 63-52 in McCamish Pavilion, and there were examples of what can happen if players worry less about scouting reports and rather exercise more with the instincts that landed them Division I scholarships in the first place.
Good thing the Jackets have not over-focused on results.
The Jackets play so hard, yet have reaped so few benefits. Still, against what most would consider human intuition, they’ve focused on the process.
Having started the ACC season 2-11, there was ample foundation for surrender. Lose a slew of close games, several in which the lead vaporized late, and what would be your will to keep busting your tail?
The Jackets have each other, and whatever head coach Brian Gregory instills.
“All those close games, we could have put our heads down, but we as a team have the mentality that we’re not going to put our head down . . . we’re going to keep fighting,” said graduate student Demarco Cox, who pitched in 12 points and nine rebounds. “I think that comes with us being able to bond.”
Tech has lost more games late, and by slim margins, than is worth mentioning.
Yet the Jackets don’t seem to worry about such details.
“This team is much better than their ACC record shows,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “They’re competing extremely hard against everybody in our league, and…Brian and his guys are doing a much better job than what a lot of people think, especially continuing to get those kids to keep competing like that.”
Tech snapped a 10-game losing streak to Clemson by focusing on the present, pulling away from a 32-all tie in the second half with as spot-on a display of Dr. Naismith’s game as you might hope to witness.
A 14-0 run from there was everything that Gregory hopes for, and more.
There were all kinds of examples of how the Jackets play for each other.
The Jackets won while:
- Their eighth-leading scorer, Heath, led them in scoring (14 points). He averaged 3.6 in Tech’s first 12 ACC games.
- Their sixth-leading assist man, struggling freshman Jackson, led them in assists (five) in his first start at shooting guard as Chris Bolden was suspended indefinitely. Jackson had six assists in Tech’s first 12 ACC games.
- Their fourth-leading steals guy, Heath, led them in steals (three).
- Their second leading scorer and leading rebounder, Charles Mitchell, scored six and grabbed three rebounds.
Gregory has donned the hat of Sigmund Freud. He hasn’t had a choice.
“I did have a minor in psych [in college], if you didn’t know that,” the coach said. “I think the role of a coach always has a psychological edge to it. You’re always trying to get guys to do things that are hard to do . . .
“Our effort and attitude isn’t determined by results all the time. It can’t be. We just have a strong belief that if we do that, the results will follow.”
Monday night, the results followed.
Tech out-rebounded Clemson 29-13 in the second half and scored 24 points in the paint after intermission to pull away from a 23-21 halftime lead.
The Jackets tied their ACC season high with 15 assists, with Jackson’s five leading the way. His shot was no more pure in his first college start than before (he made 2-of-8 shots), but he showed up in the right places more than to date.
Gregory could have started Georges-Hunt in Bolden’s spot, and moved other pieces around. But he went with instinct.
“I just like the way Tadric’s competed the last two weeks. He kind of mirrors our team,” said the boss. “He’s given great effort, unbelievable attitude, does a lot of good things and the ball doesn’t end up going in. But he hasn’t stopped, he hasn’t stopped fighting in practice, hasn’t stopped working on his game to get better.
“I like that about that kid . . . [He] makes a gazillion mistakes on defense, but he competed on defense, which was important. He had five assists, which I think broke his total assists in high school for four years, and he’s just got an infectious personality.”
Heath’s not a scorer, but the Tigers were giving him options.
“If me and [starting point guard] Travis [Jorgenson] drove, they wouldn’t really help…they were trying to make us score,” Heath said. “If Marcus and Tadric were [driving], they would kind of help more.”
Cox didn’t like the suggestion that his drop pass to Robert Sampson for a dunk and a 42-32 lead with 8:54 left in the game was the first assist of his college career: “Huh, I don’t think that’s right,” he said.
But after he and Jackson combined for just 10 assists in Tech’s first 13 ACC games and then totaled seven Monday, it was worth a poke.
Shoot, when the Tigers made a late rally with full-court pressure, Cox made like a point guard and dribbled out of the backcourt to break the clock.
“I just flashed to the open spot, and…everybody was face-guarded. I looked around, and said, ‘I’m not about to turn the ball over,’ so I go to dribbling,” he said after making 6-of-8 shots. “I wasn’t scared, though, not at all.”
The Jackets played as if they were not scared by anything.
Robert Sampson was sublime with seven points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, and Tech was what Gregory wants Tech to be: complete.
After opening up the offense the past few weeks only to see the Jackets stove down the stretch on a few occasions, the Jackets rolled. They didn’t think; they played. With just one day after Saturday’s late-game loss to Florida State, the Jackets had little choice but to get after it. There wasn’t time for a game plan.
And Jackson’s mentality may have been most pervasive.
“He kind of plays with a confidence that he not only belongs out there, but belongs on the top of the heap and maybe we need that; I like that about him,” Gregory said. “Even in the timeouts, when crap ain’t going well, our guys have been off the charts. I can’t say it enough, how well they’ve been.”