Jan. 15, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Playing 40 minutes is at the top of Brian Gregory’s list of requirements to be successful.
That leaves a lot of room for introspection following a loss in a game that really could have gone the other way.
Gregory felt that was especially true following Georgia Tech’s 62-59 loss Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion against No. 12 Notre Dame.
Demarco Cox scored a career-high 17 with seven rebounds and Chris Bolden added 13 on 3-for-3 shooting from three off the bench for the Jackets, but it wasn’t enough for the Jackets to avert their second loss in 10 days to the Irish and the fourth straight loss to open ACC play — the four losses have come by a total of 18 points with none of them by more than seven points.
“You look at some of those things when it comes down to a one- or two-point game. It’s a play here, a play there,” said Gregory. “It’s not always the plays at the end of the game.”
Gregory was talking specifically about a three-point basket by Notre Dame forward Steve Vasturia with 3:42 remaining in the first half. The basket cut Tech’s lead to 35-26, but also ended an inspired 6-0 burst by the Jackets that gave them a double-digit lead and got the crowd into the game.
“The time we left Vasturia in the first half. He gave him a wide-open three. That was just a blown coverage,” said Gregory. “Although it’s the first half and it doesn’t make the news that that was a big play, at the end of the game, those plays cost you games. That’s where we’re at right now. We’re fighting for every single play.”
Of course, every play becomes big in a three-point game, and hurts more in a three-point loss.
The Jackets had chances late, but couldn’t cash in, while the Fighting Irish did, as Jerian Grant hit a tough, well-defended jumper with 21 seconds remaining to push the lead to 59-56, then, turned Tech’s pressure on an inbounds play into a long, outlet pass for a lay-up and a back-breaking three-point play.
“It just comes down to making a couple of plays at the end of the game. We got the ball and tried to finish a couple of plays. Unfortunately, like the game down there, we weren’t able to do that,” said Gregory. “It’s frustrating, no doubt about it. At the same time, you have to keep battling through and know that you have done a lot of good things, but not enough of them or at the critical times. I think that’s the big thing.”
“It’s really frustrating,” agreed Bolden, who sizzled in the first half, scoring 11 straight Tech points (three three-point field goals and a layup) in a 2:55 span, raising his career three-point-shooting percentage against Notre Dame to .667 (12-for-18). “There are different factors that go into our losses. Marcus [Georges-Hunt] gets in foul trouble the last two games in the first half and even though we’re up, that’s a blow. He comes out the second half out of rhythm. It’s a long season and it’s not over right now.”
While Bolden being in rhythm forced Notre Dame to reevaluate its zone, Georges-Hunt was locked up all night long by Vasturia, going without a field goal for the first time in his Georgia Tech career, covering 70 games.
Cox was a force in the paint, taking advantage of the absence of Irish big Zach Auguste, shooting 6-for-10, and 5-for-6 from the line for his second straight double-digit-scoring game. But he was limited to three shots in the second half, as Notre Dame dropped down on him, forcing him to play through double- and triple-teams.
“I’ve been through double-teams and triple-teams all year so when they started triple-teaming I started pump-faking the play around the ball a little bit and threw the ball out to one of the guards and let them make the play,” he said. “But I would say it doesn’t slow me down because I’m always in attack mode when I get it in the post.”
That attack mode got him to the line six times, more than attempts than he took in the last nine games combined and the most he’d been to the line in a game since Nov. 30. He matched his season-high by making five of them, needing seven fewer attempts than on Nov. 27 when he made five vs. Marquette.
“He’s a monster in the post,” said Bolden of Cox. “He’s a good passer, he can kick the ball out when the double-teams come and just wear them down in the post. I believe in that and the coaches do as well. Every opportunity I feel I need to get him the ball.”
But offense was hard to come by in the second half for the Yellow Jackets, who shot only 26.1 percent in the final 20 minutes. They missed five of their first six shots coming out of halftime, then went without a field goal for nearly the entire final seven minutes.
“At the end of the game that we [have to] execute our plays a little better than we’ve been executing,” said Cox. “When coach calls your name to make a play that you come through and make the play that needs to be made for us to keep playing.”
Gregory credited Notre Dame’s defensive adjustments.
“I thought Notre Dame played really, really good defense in the second half. It got us out of rhythm a little bit,” he said. “Some of those baskets we were making around the basket were not quite as easy in the second half.”
He added that his team’s defense did not match Notre Dame’s.
“We didn’t defend as well and we were a little bit more on our heels in those first 15 minutes. Because we weren’t as good defensively, we didn’t create any easy baskets on the other end like we did the first half,” he said, pointing to N.D.’s 15-4 edge in fast-break points. “We got some deflections, some steals, shots on the rim on the break, offensive rebounds. Our defense, when we’re good, creates two or three baskets in a half. But in the second half, we didn’t get those.”
The Jackets will go back to work for a Saturday game in Pittsburgh. They’ll continue to build on the positives, of which there were many.
“I thought Chris played an exceptional game on the offensive end. I thought he responded well to coming off the bench. I thought Corey responded well to starting. We were pretty good defensively with Corey out there. I thought he gave us a big lift,” Gregory said. ”It’s not like they aren’t trying or they aren’t competing. You can’t watch that game and say we didn’t compete at a high level. We just have to finish some of those plays.”