Nov. 15, 2015
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
When you live in Atlanta, you get to know all about traffic.
Very rarely is it viewed as something advantageous or implemented by design.
Friday night Georgia Tech did both, with spectacular results — a season-opening 116-81 victory at McCamish Pavilion over Cornell.
The enormity of the win — the 116 points were the fifth-most in school history, the most since the Yellow Jackets scored 120 vs. Texas in the Pre-Season NIT on Nov. 27, 1991 and the first time cracking the century mark since Nov. 14, 2009 against Florida A&M — caught Coach Brian Gregory somewhat by surprise.
“I said on the radio that I guarantee there wasn’t one person that was at the game or listened on the radio that ever thought they’d hear ‘A Georgia Tech team coached by Brian Gregory just scored 116 points,’” said Gregory with a laugh. “The fifth-most [points] in the history of the school. Those words don’t go together.”
What did go together on Friday night was basically every combination that the Jackets threw at the undersized and under experienced Big Red. The Jackets had seven players at least 6-8 to three for Cornell and had only one non-senior (or older) in its starting five, while Cornell had one senior on its entire roster.
“They’re a much improved ball club over last year,” said Cornell Coach Bill Courtney. “I think you can see it in the way they shot the basketball. They look like they gel well together.”
As expected the bigger and more experienced Jackets dominated areas like rebounding (48-24), offensive rebounding (20-8), points in the paint (64-28) and second-chance points (29-16), led by senior forward Charles Mitchell, who put up game-highs of 21 points and 11 rebounds, five of them off the offensive glass. Mitchell had plenty of help as seven different Jackets scored in double-figures and 10 players scored — the only players who didn’t, Corey Heyward and Rand Rowland didn’t take shots.
“It’s great that everybody got to play, everybody got a touch throughout our whole team,” said Mitchell, who recorded his 16th double-double as a Yellow Jacket and 32nd of his college career. “Seven players in double figures. That’s fun basketball.”
The game was anything but fun after 20 minutes as Tech led 57-49, and by only two after Cornell guard Robert Hatter hit back-to-back threes 14 seconds apart in the first minute of the second half.
The game stayed within two possessions until but then, with about 16 minutes to go and Tech up, 66-64, Tech went small, putting greater emphasis on closing off drives to the rim. Their gridlocking the paint led to Cornell’s offense stalling out. Over the next eight-plus minutes, the Jackets put the game away, going on a 32-4 run.
“I was pleased with the way our guys responded after they cut it to two,” said Gregory. “We just knew we had to play a little better defense and guard the ball better. We made an adjustment on the ball-screen coverage and our guys responded to that.”
“We weren’t playing the driving game well in the first half. When we let a team shoot 50 percent (51.5, 44.4 from three), that gives them confidence,” said Mitchell. “They start making open shots because of their ‘drive-and-kick’ game. When they start making open shots, contested shots start falling because they have more confidence. So I felt like the driving game in the first half worked for them and that was something that we focused on coming out in the second half and was something that really worked for us.”
With driving options limited, Cornell was unable to find their perimeter players open looks also disappeared. Cornell shot 2-for-9 over the final 16:26, as the Jackets forced 10 turnovers, turned the game into a highlight film.
“The driving game really opened up for them because it made us scramble. So when they put the defense in rotation that’s where the open shots come from,” said grad student and Jonesboro native Adam Smith, who hit a team-high three three-pointers in his first home game with the Jackets. “But, like Chuck said, it started with drives. If you can get to the basket it puts the whole defense in rotation and that’s where the open shots come from.”
Tech finished the game shooting 60.3 percent for the game and served notice about what they hope lies ahead expect the rest of this season.
“Offensively we’re much improved and we’re going to keep getting better because our guys are just starting to feel their way on that,” said Gregory. “I’m really pleased with the first game — doing a lot of good things with 30 assists, six turnovers, 20 offensive rebounds on only 30 missed shots — that’s pretty good. We’ve got to get a lot better defensively, but today was a good step.”