Jan. 13, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– How big was Saturday’s 68-64 win by Georgia Tech against No. 4 Virginia on Saturday afternoon?
The Yellow Jackets hope big enough to to spark a winning streak — the kind that can turn a program around.
How much jump they gained from the win will be seen on Wednesday, when Tech takes on Notre Dame at Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, in South Bend. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. and can be seen on the ACC Network (WATL in Atlanta).
It’s neither the easiest way nor the easiest place, to get a winning streak.
“They’re good. They’re the ACC champ and one play away from playing in [last year’s] Final Four,” said Coach Brian Gregory. “Now they’re different but they still have some of the main ingredients that helped them have the best year in a long time at Notre Dame.
“They have a premier guard in [junior Demetrius] Jackson, one of the best in the country, [junior guard Steve] Vasturia is vastly underrated, [senior forward Zach] Auguste inside is as good as any big guy in the league,” he added. “The way that they shoot the ball, with [freshman forward Matt] Ryan shooting the ball well and [junior forward V.J.] Beachem shooting the ball well, there are just tough match-ups all the way around. They’re very, very good and it’s a tough place to play. We’re going to have to play extremely well for 40 minutes.”
Despite having only one senior (Auguste) the Fighting Irish are battle-tested, as Jackson, Vasturia, Beachem, and Ryan are juniors, while improving big Bonzie Colson is a sophomore. They are 10-5 with three of the losses coming by four-or-fewer points, another by seven, at Big Ten co-leader Indiana. In conference play they’ve dropped an 11-point decision at then-No. 5 Virginia and a four-pointer at home on Saturday against No. 24 Pittsburgh, a game where they cut a 16-point lead to two late and even shot for a tie.
Notre Dame can fill it up, as they’re the top shooting team in the ACC, (50.6 percent), and top three-point shooting team (40.3) and is unselfish, handing out 15.3 assists per game, third in the conference. They’re led by Auguste, who is 25th in the ACC in scoring (13.3 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (9.5 rpg), and Jackson, who is fifth in scoring (17.1 ppg) and third in assists (5.3 apg). Both also are top 10 in field goal percentage (Auguste, 54.2, Jackson 50.5). Beachem is fourth in the conference in three-point shooting, converting at 45.7 percent, and is second, in three-pointers made per game at 2.8, trailing only Tech’s Adam Smith (3.5). They have a balanced attack, as all five starters average north of 10.0 ppg, with Jackson at leading the way and Colson the lowest at 11.3 ppg.
“It will be a challenge for our big guys because they have a good mix,” said Gregory. “They have Auguste, who is really good around the basket, super athlete, great offensive rebounder. [Bonzie] Colson, mid-range to low-post really hurt us here last year. It was kind of his coming out party. Then they play Ryan, who’s a stretch player. So you always have to have concentration in terms of who you’re guarding and where they are on the court for our big guys. That’s always a challenge.”
Then, again, staring down a challenge is becoming second-nature for the Yellow Jackets, who have opened ACC play against three top-25 teams, including tough losses at No. 7 North Carolina and Pittsburgh, then, outlasted Virginia in its home-opener. Winning in South Bend, where Tech is 2-4 all-time, is hardly an easy place to get a win, but then, again easy isn’t in the nature of ACC play.
They’ll need to duplicate a lot of the same things they did in beating the Cavaliers.
“You took what you did against that Virginia team, because they’re great offensively and defensively and you take that mindset and you use it against other teams in the ACC,” said Marcus Georges-Hunt, who made his first start of the season at the point against the Cavs, handing out four assists vs. two turnovers and making two steals. “You really can’t overlook any team. You have to play each team like it has a number by its name. You have to be hungry for success and want to win. You have to have faith and believe in one another. That’s the biggest thing, believing in one another, believing you can win because losing is not an option.”
“We got some guys to step up big time during the game and it was a key win for us as a program,” added forward Nick Jacobs, who was one of three 16-point-scorers for the Jackets against the Cavs, including hitting 6-of-7 from the foul line, four straight down the stretch. “We have to understand we’re expected to do this and we have to continue executing and doing the right things by going hard in practice, watching film and trusting the coaches and just trusting and knowing that we’re going to get it done in the next game.”
The Jackets, who will use the same starting lineup as they did Saturday — Georges-Hunt at the point joining Smith, and junior forward Quinton Stephens making his second career start with James White and Charles Mitchell — have options. That’s something, especially up front that Gregory feels can be advantageous.
“As I said after the [Virginia] game, one of our strengths is our versatility,” said Gregory. “We have to be fluid not only who’s out there on the court, but maybe who’s starting the games according to match-ups or offensive match-ups and different things like that. So everybody’s got to be ready to go — the 10 guys who have played, those guys have to be ready to go.”
Georgia Tech is fourth in the conference in rebounding margin, plus-8.8 per game, nearly four rebounds a game better than Notre Dame (plus-4.9). Controlling the boards, as they did against Virginia, who they out-rebounded 41-29, will be crucial in slowing down the Irish, who are 1-4 when losing the battle on the boards. Tech is 10-3 when out-rebounding its opponent.
“Notre Dame is great in transition and they have a guy (Jackson) that can get from one end line to the other end line as fast as anybody around,” said Gregory. “So it will be a little bit of a challenge. Transition baskets are a big point for us.”
Having proved they can win a close conference game was a big point for the team’s psyche. Now they must prove they can win on the road.
“We have lost a lot of close ones, especially last year, but being able to close out this one against a great Virginia team, says a lot,” said Georges-Hunt. “We lost two tough road games but the great thing is we never put our head down this early in ACC season. We grew from it and we got better and it showed against Virginia. I feel like after this win, it could start something.”