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#TGW: Running on Empty

March 4, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– The way the 2015 ACC portion of the season went for Georgia Tech, it was only a matter of time before injury caught up with insult for the hard-luck Yellow Jackets.

The injury part came just in time for the end of the season and the ACC Tournament.

It started on Saturday, at the end of the 70-63 overtime loss at Clemson, when forward Quinton Stephens suffered an abdominal strain. That was followed by point guard Josh Heath getting waylaid by a stomach bug that left him barely able to eat, let alone practice, during the week. But the coup de grace came three minutes into Tuesday night’s game at McCamish Pavilion against No. 19 North Carolina, when leading scorer and team leader Marcus Georges-Hunt left the game with a right foot injury.

Georges-Hunt would spend the remainder of the first half at the end of the bench with his right shoe off and and the entire second half with a walking boot on the foot.

The Tar Heels took care of business from there, knocking off the game Jackets, 81-49.

“We knew maybe being a little short-handed was going to put us in a tough spot,” said Jackets’coach Brian Gregory. “I’ll give Quinton [Stephens] credit. He has not done anything the last couple days but he tried to go through warm-ups and wanted to play. At this point, with an abdominal strain, he couldn’t really do anything. Josh [Heath] has not practiced the last couple of days, so we knew we would be kind of short on the perimeter a little bit and then, unfortunately, Marcus [Georges-Hunt] got hurt. It kind of threw us out of sorts a little bit. We had guys playing different spots than they have really ever played before.”

Among those moves was the front line of Robert Sampson at small forward and Demarco Cox and Charles Mitchell at the four and five.

“At times out there, with one or two guards it’s hard to play against North Carolina,” said Gregory. “They are going to pressure and trap you. They use their length very well. Obviously, with only one or two ball handlers out there today put us in a tough spot. Eighteen turnovers kind of speaks for that.”

The move caught the bigs a little by surprise, before they were able to adjust.

“The first half, it was definitely hard because I haven’t played any at the three the whole year and I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time,” said Sampson, who finished with four points, five rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal in his debut at the three and his home finale for the Jackets. “After I kept on going through it was picking up a little bit. But [Georges-Hunt’s] injury, I hope he gets better. He’s a big part of the time, provides openness around the court.”

“When you lose your leading scorer, it hurts your team chemistry-wise,” said Cox, who finished with 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting with, eight rebounds and a steal. “When Marcus went down Coach had to think of some strategy. Robert at the three and me and Chucky at the four and five I was looking around like, `What’s really going on?’ Then I saw Marcus with a bag of ice on his foot and I knew he was done for the rest of the game. He had to think of something to do, so he decided to go big.”

They responded, as Cox, one of three seniors (Sampson and forward Aaron Peek) honored on Senior Night, Sampson, and Charles Mitchell (16 points, eight rebounds), combined for all 34 points in the paint (the Jackets were outscored 36-34), and helped Tech dominate the offensive boards, outrebounding the Heels, 16-11, on the offensive glass.

With their their top three three-point shooters down — Georges-Hunt, Stephens and suspended Chris Bolden, combined for 65 percent of the team’s three-pointers — the Jackets understandably struggled from the perimeter, going 1-for-16, missing their first 12 tries and shot 32.8 percent for the game.

Tech also was out of character in committing turnovers, as they tied their season-high with 18 (the most in ACC play), with 11 coming in the first half, which were turned into 21 points. Many of the miscues led to easy transition baskets for the Heels, who outscored the Jackets 22-6 off the break.

“So many of their [North Carolina’s] points came off of our turnovers,” said Gregory. “I thought that in the second half we came out with some energy. We did some good things. We just didn’t have enough firepower to kind of cut into that lead. I think unfortunately, at the end, our defense did not perform as well as it had the first 30 minutes and ran out gas a little bit.”

Tech got gritty performances from walk-on Brooks Doyle, who played a career-high 13 minutes, and freshmen Abdoulaye Gueye, who matched his season-high with eight minutes played, and Ben Lammers, who had a block and a steal in the same game for the second time this season.

“For being freshmen I thought [Gueye and Lammers] held up pretty good,” said Cox. “Two days ago, we had a meeting, all the bigs, Coach said, `Look, guys, we’re going to play you all in spurts at a time. I need you to go as hard as you can go and then come out.’ I think that motivated them because I knew they were going to end up playing. They played pretty good as freshmen.”

While outmanned, the Jackets never threw in the towel, an important fact to Gregory, who kept pumping up and coaching up his guys until the end.

As the Jackets wait to find out their seeding in next week’s ACC Tournament they’ll take advantage of some much-needed rest.

“We have got to get healthy. We’ve got to have some guys ready to go that maybe have not played as much,” said Gregory. “If we go with that bigger lineup, we have to look at what we are going to try to execute offensively. We just have to get some rest the next couple of days and get ready to go to Greensboro and play well out there.”

Just who will be out there is still being determined, as Georges-Hunt was getting an X-ray on his foot Wednesday, although the fact that the injury was non-contact doesn’t necessarily bode well according to Gregory. Stephens has been progressing daily, while for Heath, it’s just a matter of regaining some strength.

Cox believes the team can get back to doing what it does best and make something happen in the ACC Tournament.

“We’re not a high-turnover team,” he said. “We just have to calm down a little bit as a team and just play the way we play and not let other teams beat us, speed us up.”

Gregory has no doubt that the team will show up and give its trademark all-out effort.

“It’s been [a] tough [season], just due to the fact of the level of competitiveness that we’ve been able to play with and not really get anything to show for it,” he said. “In a lot of ways, for me, it’s been remarkable, the resolve and character of our guys that keep fighting back.

“You can say a lot of different things but you can never question that with these guys,” he added. “You can’t question their fight. You can’t question the pride they play with when they put on those uniforms. You can’t question their daily work ethic in terms of practice. So as frustrating as some of the results are, from a coaching standpoint, I feel pretty good about those guys. Would I like the results to be different? Hell yeah. Would I like our guys to be different? No.”

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