March 17, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Part of what makes postseason college basketball so intriguing is the mystery surrounding your opponent. With so little time to prepare, teams can’t really learn all the ins and outs of the team they’re facing, only tendencies.
So while numbers and film study can show that Georgia Tech guard Adam Smith is a good three-point shooter, only the game can show the limits — or lack thereof — to Smith’s range and how the grad student, who led the ACC in three-point shooting for the second straight season, can convert even the most impossible-looking shot.
Houston knows now.
Smith lit up the Cougars for 20 points, his ninth 20-point game of the season and third in the last four, as Georgia Tech blew out Houston, 81-62, in front of a boisterous crowd Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion in the NIT first-round game.
“There’s no such thing as make-believe. He made hard shots,” said Houston head Coach Kelvin Sampson. “He has the freedom to take them, so obviously he’s a good shooter. We hadn’t played anybody who takes shots like that, much less makes them. The only other guy I’ve seen make shots like that is Steph Curry. Obviously Brian [Gregory] knows…I can only imagine the shots he takes in practice.”
Actually, Sampson wouldn’t have seen anything drastically different.
“He takes those in practice, too,” said Gregory. “We have a great comfort level with him coming off the screens and getting some shots. He’s done a great job for us all year long. Let’s be honest. Where would we be without him?”
Gregory stated that nowhere in McCamish is out of bounds for Smith to let fly.
“Not here,” he exclaimed, breaking into a smile. “Sometimes I get on him for not taking some shots. Have there been times where I’ve told him he’s taken a bad shot? Yeah. He just kind of gives me a look and we go on to the next play. He’s earned that right. He’s not only earned it because he makes it, he’s earned it because of the time he puts in. I know how much time he spends on his game, so there’s a confidence in that. You reap what you sow. He’s put in a lot of time in the gym on his own.”
Smith made for a long Wednesday night for the Cougars. He shot 6-for-12, 5-for-5 from the line and 3-of-6 from three-point range, outscoring the Cougars from behind the arc — UH made only 2-of-13. He didn’t deny his shot selection tends to include high-percentage shots.
“They are,” he said, with a laugh. “A lot of people say that. They say they’re tough shots. I take and make tough shots. But they’re all rhythm shots, a lot of shots that I practice.”
Ironically, on Wednesday night, Smith’s biggest shot may have been one of the simplest. With 7:53 remaining and Tech leading 25-22, he came off a Ben Lammers screen, took a pass from Marcus Georges-Hunt, squared up and let go a three.
“That was just us converting off a set. It was a down-screen by Ben. It was a great screen by him. That was just us executing a play that Coach called,” said Smith, who didn’t actually see the ball go through the net, as Cougars redshirt senior guard LeRon Barnes barreled into him, knocking him to the floor, but knew the result from the crowd reaction. “Fortunately I got the shot to go down, converted the free throw. It was huge. I think that gave us a lot of momentum.”
Even more important was the foul on Barnes, his second of the half, which forced, who the 6-5, 195-pound guard to the bench.
“He’s a really physical defender so that kind of gave me a breath of fresh air,” said Smith who spotted Barnes four inches and 30 pounds. “It increased the lead, of course, but I think it did more damage to them than it did uplifting us. Whenever you foul a shooter, any shooter, whether he makes or misses the shot it drains you. For that to be a four-point play, I think it did more damage to them energy-wise than it did loose us.”
The foul, Barnes’ second in 2:01 span, certainly pained Sampson.
“Smith makes a lot of bad shots. Those are bad shots. You’ve got to be disciplined enough not to foul him,” he said. “You don’t foul shooters.”
The lead would grow to nine shortly after the free throw, the lead at the break.
A Jackets’ 6-0 run to start the second half pushed the lead to 15, and the lead ballooned to 24 and never got below 16, as the Jackets continued to scald the nets. They shot 56 percent in the second half — hitting 10 of their first 15 shots to start the half — and 52.5 percent for the game and nailed 50 percent from three for the game (8-for-16) against a Houston team that had been sixth in the nation in three-point defense.
In stark contrast, Houston hovered around 30 percent shooting midway through the second half and missed their first 10 three-point attempts, not hitting one until Rob Gray, Jr., their leading scorer, who shot only 2-for-9, made one with 8:35 remaining. UH was 2-for-13 for the game.
The 19-point win was the largest in Georgia Tech postseason history and felt especially good for the senior class, all of whom contributed. Georges-Hunt and Smith combined for 39 points on 13-of-25 shooting, 4-of-9 from three, with nine assists against only four turnovers, with Georges-Hunt adding a steal and a resounding block. The bigs also responded as Charles Mitchell had 12 points and seven rebounds and Nick Jacobs added eight and five — both pulled in four offensive rebounds, as Tech had a 13-8 edge on the offensive glass. James White had six rebounds a big block and a pair of assists. Everyone got into the act, as Ben Lammers scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and made two blocks and red-shirt junior Corey Heyward brought the crowd to its feet in the final minute by making with a three-pointer for the Jackets’ final points.
Georgia Tech moves on to play top seed South Carolina, at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia on Monday night, but they won’t soon forget Wednesday night.
Getting to celebrate the team’s first 20-win season in six years and only the 15th in school history and the 14th home win, the best under Gregory and also the best in six years made it extra sweet.
“It felt great. Just coming out and looking at everybody in the stands that came out, I was just thankful for it,” said Georges-Hunt. “Being able to play in March, being that it’s my first time, I think it’s [Smith’s] first time, too, we had a lot of fun out there. Being at home it made it even better.”
“I appreciate the fans. They had great energy tonight. Our students were off the charts,” said Gregory. “That whole student section was full, and that was great. I’m much appreciative of that as are our players. It’s great for those seniors to walk off the court the last time with that win and with the students there. They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives.”