Jan. 9, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– There are ways a captain is supposed to act, in good times, and especially not-so-good ones.
Quinton Stephens showed just how the role of captain should be played. It began following Wednesday night’s loss at Pittsburgh, a game in which he played a season-low three minutes, the fewest he’s played in almost two seasons. The junior forward went back to work and exemplified how to shake off adversity.
He capped off those three days on Saturday afternoon, going for a season-high 16 points, on 6-for-8 shooting, 4-for-4 from three, an assist, five rebounds, and a pair of blocks in twice igniting the team in its 68-64 win over No. 4/4 Virginia at McCamish Pavilion.
“With the Pittsburgh game, not really playing much, as a captain I was trying to stay composed make sure my guys were in it as well as me,” he said. “Because stuff like that, it’s easy to get down on yourself.”
His not getting down on himself led to his getting the ultimate vote of confidence in Thursday’s meeting when coach Brian Gregory announced that Stephens would start as part of a lineup shake-up.
“I was a little bit surprised, but I was really looking forward to the opportunity [to start],” he said. “So I just tried to make the most of it, and on top of it my teammates had my back. they were excited for me and they let me know that and that actually meant a lot to me.”
It was more of what Stephens DIDN’T do — and hasn’t done — that has gained him respect from his coaches and teammates.
“Nowadays kids would be sulking and not be happy,” said coach Brian Gregory. “He’s one of our captains and he knows how important it is every day to have a positive attitude and go to work. He’s been putting in extra time. I’m proud of him. Not just because of the performance but because of his attitude and how he’s approached things over the last couple of weeks. That’s why we inserted him into the starting lineup to be honest with you.”
“I was happy for him,” agreed Marcus Georges-Hunt, who matched Stephens with the team-high 16 (forward Nick Jacobs also had 16). “He only played three minutes against Pittsburgh but mentally he was there. For him to come out and be engaged and not mope around and be ready to play, I was happy for him. He put on a show today.”
It was a great day to do it, in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd.
“It was awesome,” Stephens said. “After we had the flags walk off the court, I looked up and the crowd. It was a great atmosphere. We had all the students today, even early and that gets us going, just hearing the students excited. But we had a really good time out there.”
Stephens gave the crowd a good time, electrifying the crowd right from the jump. He opened the scoring with a jumper 11 seconds in, then gave Tech a lead with a three-pointer at 16:13 and would proceed to hit another jumper and another three-pointer, to push Georgia Tech to an early 15-7 lead, a lead which would eventually grow to 15. The two three-pointers were two more than Georgia Tech made the entire game the last time the two teams met.
“I got my open shot,” he said. “I saw it go through and like any shooter, any scorer, once you see a ball go through, the green light goes on, and you’re just that much more aggressive, the confidence is built and confidence is really what makes shots.”
The game-opening outburst gave Stephens 10 points in 7:18. That matched his total over the previous six games. But he wasn’t finished. He was saving a tremendous second act for when it mattered most in the second half.
Virginia went on an 11-2 run over 7:30 to knot the game at 49 and the crowd that had been so electric, suddenly seemed unplugged. But that wouldn’t stand today. The Jackets wouldn’t let it.
“The funny thing about it, once it was 49-up, all of us just had smiles on our faces during the timeout because we just knew we were ready,” Stephens said. “We were like, ‘Okay, if they want to make it a game let’s make it a game.’ So we just came out, did what we had to do and made a little cushion, then we were able to knock down some free throws at the end of the game just to keep ourselves up.”
After the Jackets ran a perfectly designed play that netted them a pair of Nick Jacobs free throws, Stephens, as he’d done in the first half, took over on both ends of the floor.
On Virginia’s ensuing possession he ripped down the rebound of an Anthony Gill miss and started Tech the other way. The possession would end up with Stephens with the ball straight away about 25 feet out. He drained the three. Then, following a London Perrantes miss from three, Stephens again pulled down the rebound and started the ball the other way. That possession would end up with a long rainbow three from the left side from Stephens. Virginia called timeout, but there would be no cooling Stephens off. Cavaliers guard Marial Shayock, whose length made things so difficult for Tech sharpshooter Adam Smith in the second half, had his jumper deflected by Stephens into the arms of Charles Mitchell. Smith would cap off the possession with a three-pointer.
The Jackets had a 60-49 lead and the Cavs never got closer than six. Tech’s defense especially locked in, as the Cavaliers went without a field goal for nearly five minutes.
“[The defense] was huge,” said Stephens. “We really locked in. Something we emphasized after the Pittsburgh game was concentration. I think we had some good guys out there that believed in us and we just stayed locked in and did our coverage.”
It was the focus the Jackets attained during the prep period on Thursday and Friday. It was a time in which things could have fallen apart for Tech but instead came together.
When leadership was most needed Georgia Tech’s captains responded, none more than Stephens, who said his shooting performance, especially the four three-pointers, a season-high, which matched the output of his previous seven games, did not surprise him.
“I always feel like I’m hot,” he said.
That overall attitude and performance did not surprise Gregory.
“Nothing is more important than how we’re supposed to do things on a daily basis here, and Q does them,” said Gregory. “I think potentially that lineup may be a little fluid according to matchups and different things like that. Our kids have been good with that, and I think it’s something that we need to look at in the future. But, obviously, Q gave us a huge lift to start the game, made those two big threes, really good execution on our set plays, and probably was the difference in the game.”
It’s something to remember, especially if Saturday’s game turns out to make a difference in the season.
“It’s definitely a big win,” Stephens said. “Virginia’s a really good team, but we prepare well for each game, and I must say we expect to win games like this. But we’re not going to downplay it. This is a huge win for us. Now we’re 1-2 in the league, and we go to Notre Dame and make that happen as well.”
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