Dec. 21, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
If Saturday was the only time you’ve seen Georgia Tech play this season, your impressions of the Yellow Jackets were likely split like the personalities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with soft-spoken point guard Travis Jorgenson serving as the fulcrum upon which your opinions flipped.
Tech dropped the first half 33-25, and rolled 40-27 in the second to beat Vanderbilt 65-60. If it wasn’t a signature win, the Jackets (8-2) left fingerprints in McCamish Pavilion.
There was evidence early as to why this team might be considered a long shot for postseason action beyond the ACC tournament, and then enough to make you go, `Hmmmmm? Maybe.’
Really, this team isn’t all that schizophrenic; to stabilize it simply needs:
# Jorgenson to play with the confidence that he did, finally, after halftime.
# Attack zone defenses as the Jackets did in the second half, when Jorgenson was in the middle of nearly everything.
# Take care of the ball as on Saturday (just seven turnovers to 14 assists).
# Keep defending and rebounding as they have pretty much all season.
Head coach Brian Gregory has been patient with Jorgenson in the redshirt freshman’s return from a right ACL torn in the fourth game last season. Frankly, it’s been a slog through his first eight games (he sat out one) this fall.
His best game, by far, as a collegian was his first.
In last year’s season opener, he scored eight points with five assists, four rebounds and four steals in a win over Presbyterian. All stood as career highs until Saturday.
In his first eight games, Jorgenson averaged 2.5 points on 25.9 percent shooting, made 3-of-14 3-pointers, and banked 18 assists (2.3 per game) against 11 turnovers. He had two steals overall.
“I probably underestimated how difficult it would be to come back and just get back in a groove,” he said. “I just felt comfortable and let the game come to me.”
In the final 20 minutes Saturday, Jorgenson logged 13 of his 24 minutes, and scored five of his career high-tying eight points – including a 3-pointer that left him 2-for-4 on the day and an enormous jumper in traffic.
He also dished out five of his career-high six assists, and poked away a ball for a steal that triggered one of two emphatic fast break dunks for the Jackets.
The shortest Jacket made the biggest difference.
“Travis had maybe his best all-around game since he’s been back,” Gregory said. “He was good defensively as well. We’ve worked hard on our zone offense in terms of the guards not just standing around, (they have been) attacking gaps and creating shot for each other and hitting the bigs on those drives.”
Tech was tied in knots by zones in both losses this season, first when Marquette surprised the Jackets, and then when USC Upstate stalled the home team a couple weeks ago.
The first half Saturday was more of the same.
As Vandy built that 33-25 lead, there was ample display of Tech’s bugaboos, especially in the way they navigate against the zone defenses they’re likely to keep seeing since they don’t shoot particularly well.
# The Jackets shot 10-for-36 in the first half, 2-for-12 on 3-pointers.
# They typically rebound adeptly, yet don’t always cash in on second chances (they scored six second-chance points off 10 rebounds).
In the second half, the ball moved with greater alacrity, and Jorgenson was most often the one moving it.
Almost as suddenly as he tore that knee ligament last Nov. 20 in a home loss to Dayton, he seemed to snap back to expectations. His new-found/re-discovered confidence in himself and his body was contagious.
A couple times, Jorgenson even jumped around, pumped his fists, and celebrated as if charged by electrical prod. It was quite a sight.
He took a long defensive rebound in the middle of the second half, and quickly turned down court as if shot out of a cannon. Charles Mitchell flanked him, caught a nifty pass, and threw down a dunk for a 47-43 lead with 8:50 left in the game.
Here, Jorgenson got really happy. Several Jackets celebrated, actually, as McCamish went a little nuts with Gregory waving arms like mad to send the Techsters back to the defensive end.
“It’s pretty amazing. Somebody like Trav . . . he’s a man of few words,” Mitchell said after turning in game highs of 19 points and eight rebounds. “To see him all hyped and energized and ready to play was great to see today.”
After Sampson tipped in a Bolden miss for a 45-43 lead with 10:16 remaining in the game, the Jackets would never trail again.
They were tied, however, when Vandy’s James Siakam made two free throws with 3:44 left to knot matters at 53.
Time for Jorgenson’s two biggest plays, back-to-back.
He and his teammates were much better in the second half at attacking Vandy’s zones, as they scored 22 of their 40 points in the paint, and also scored 10 second-chance points off 10 offensive rebounds.
Moments after the Siakam free throws, with tension in the air, and the Commodores having gone back to zone after a bit of man, Jorgenson probed from the top.
Demarco Cox moved up the left side of the lane to set a screen, and Jorgenson used it smartly while curling to his left – and into the teeth of the zone.
There were four `Dores perhaps within six feet, and if they read their scouting reports, they likely did not think Jorgenson had a shot on his mind.
The shot clock was not yet an issue, and Travis averaged just 3.4 shots over his first eight games.
Yet suddenly the 6-footer put on the brake, rose like a quick elevator, and nailed a 14-foot jumper to give the Jackets a 55-53 lead with 2:39 on the clock.
“That was a big-time shot,” Gregory said. “There was an explosiveness to it, an, `I’m getting this shot and this is going in.’ You sit out a year, and sometimes it takes a while. That was good to see.”
Seventeen seconds later, Jorgenson poked the ball away from Siakam near the top of the Vandy’ key, and took off the other way yet again.
He fed Sampson for a dunk, and Tech led by four.
Once more, Jorgenson was jumping and pumping. He also assisted on Tech’s next basket, a layup by Mitchell under the Vandy defense.
Saturday sure looked like a breakthrough.
“With a year off, I was pretty rusty in the beginning,” Jorgenson said quietly after the game. “I got a good week of treatment. That stuff helps. As we keep practicing and running games, the experience helps and you get a little more comfortable.”
You’re not likely to get much by way of verbiage from Jorgenson.
If he continues playing like he did in the second half against the Commodores, when it sure looked like a veil of doubt lifted, the Jackets will take that and be just fine with it.
“He’s one of those leaders who doesn’t talk, but you can tell by his energy and emotion . . . when you see him going hard, you’re going to go hard,” Mitchell said. “The energy carries throughout the team.”