Feb. 8, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
With “Lethal Weapon 3” in the house, Georgia Tech’s sense of timing was great Saturday as the Yellow Jackets played perhaps their most efficient offensive game of the ACC season in dominating Wake Forest, 73-59, in McCamish Pavilion.
There would be no sense in comparing the Jackets to Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver and Kenny Anderson, the core of the 1990 Tech team that was honored along with former coach Bobby Cremins 25 years after its magical run to the Final Four. That was one of the very best squads in Institute history.
Really, though, Tech’s timing has been better for a while now.
The Jackets have picked up the pace over the past four games, winning 70-50 at No. 23 Miami, falling 81-80 in overtime to N.C. State and 72-66 at No. 4 Duke, and then running over Wake Forest in McCamish.
Tech made a season-high nine 3-points shots Saturday, tied a season high with 15 assists (an ACC high), and shot 46.7 percent from the field even while missing 6-of-7 to end the contest with liberal substitutions as the game was in hand.
The Jackets carried a 39.9 percent ACC shooting clip into the game.
“Our offense, lately we’ve been doing a pretty good job of what coach asks us,” junior Marcus Georges-Hunt said after scoring 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. “We’re getting a lot of great looks at the basket.”
Bearing little resemblance to the offense that struggled over the first seven games of the ACC season, the Jackets are doing just about everything more diligently while deliberating less.
There has been much more to this than taking the ball off a takeaway or a defensive rebound, and just running hard.
The ball is moving more and being dribbled less. It’s resting much less. Players are moving more without the ball, and doing something with it quicker when they receive it.
Benefits have been all around, starting with the point guards, spreading to the wings, and filtering into the post. Looky here:
** Point guard Travis Jorgenson scored seven points on 3-of-6 shooting and tied his career high with six assists. He had just one turnover. Backup point Josh Heath scored his only shot for two points, and pitched in four assists with a turnover.
Head coach Brian Gregory will take a combined nine points, 10 assists and two turnovers from his point guards every time out. Georges-Hunt said of Jorgenson, who over these four games has averaged 8.3 points on 12-of-20 shooting with 16 assists and nine turnovers, “He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
** On the wings, Georges-Hunt is playing his best ball and junior shooting guard Chris Bolden appears to have re-discovered the form he flashed as a freshman.
Over the past five games, Georges-Hunt averaged 18.8 points on 57.9 percent shooting (33-of-57) and he’s made 6-of-11 3-pointers after going 2-for-3 Saturday.
Bolden led the with 16 points at Duke, where he made 4-of-6 3-pointers, and he scored 14 against Wake on 4-of-7 treys.
When making long balls, the Jackets are a grown offense, and the more players move and the more the ball moves among them, the more likely they are to find openings for these shots. They made 8-of-11 at Duke before Saturday’s outburst.
Bolden is at the forefront of the movement.
“You can just see there’s a difference pace to his game,” Gregory said. “He’s moving better without the ball. He’s sprinting off of screens. He’s making good decisions with the ball. It’s one of those things that I think, too, he’s been much better defensively, as well. “
“There’s a greater awareness, a greater sense of urgency, I think, your whole game gets better because of (defense) and shooting is one of those aspects. Having him knock down those shots makes us a different team offensively, obviously.”
The Tech defense was stellar Saturday, and Wake helped.
Starting forward Greg McClinton was suspended, and head coach Danny Manning benched talented post man Devin Thomas for the final 17-plus minutes. Yet Bolden helped harass Codi Mitchell McIntyre into 3-of-10 shooting, and Wake was 19-of-64 (29.7 percent) overall.
It was the Tech offense that caught the eye.
The Jackets started the game with an 11-0 run, and began the second half 11-2 for a 45-24 lead. The game was never in danger again, as Tech ran – an optimal word — offense after halftime as efficiently as all season.
In scoring on 11 of their first 13 possessions after intermission, with five assists and no turnovers, the Jackets averaged 1.615 points per possession. They led 55-37 on a free throw by Charles Mitchell with 13 minutes left.
Their 22 fast break points were easily a season high.
Teak peaked with 3:55 left, when Mitchell scored on a layup for a 71-48 lead, and the Jackets effectively called off the hunt.
Their last two possessions of the game resulted in turnovers by rarely-deployed freshmen.
Before that, the Jackets turned it over eight times in 67 possessions, a fairly modest 11.9 percent turnover rate. Wake Forest scored just one point off of Tech’s miscues in the entire game.
The Jackets’ average possession time was 19 seconds even though the pace slowed over the final four minutes or so. For the first 11-plus minutes of the second half, when Tech was doing so much scoring, the Jackets were averaging about 14 seconds per possession.
They were moving, the ball was moving, and that included when it went into the paint.
** Mitchell has struggled without turnovers, and his 53 lead the team by 19.
He did not turn the ball over in 21 minutes Saturday, though, and after turning it over 19 times in Tech’s first seven ACC games, he has turned it over three times in the past four.
After leading Tech in scoring with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting against Wake, the big man acknowledged doing everything quicker. The ball is not sticking as much as it has in the past, where defenses were quick to collapse upon Mitchell (and fellow bigs Demarco Cox and even Robert Sampson).
By shooting, dribbling or passing faster, Mitchell is giving defenders less time to muck up the works. It helps, too, when Tech shooters are making a few treys to create a bit more space inside.
“[Previously], I was getting double-teamed, I was trying to . . . make the home run play instead of making the simple play,” he said. “[Now, I’m] making quicker moves, making quicker decisions. I just tried to change my game: make a quicker move, or pass the ball out.”
It’s all adding up.
Over the past four games, the Jackets connected on 46.1 percent of their shots. In their first seven ACC games, they made 37.1 percent.
“It starts in practice,” Georges-Hunt said. “We’ve been efficient in practice.”