Nov. 22, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Trust is one of those things that good teams have and show plenty of late in close games.
It’s also a trait that, like winning itself, is developed over time and with positive experiences.
Georgia Tech’s 78-69 win over IPFW Friday night at McCamish Pavilion was a positive step in developing that trust in each other.
Tech stood tall and weathered several challenges in the second half when it became apparent that the Mastodons were not going away and were determined to pull off the upset and win their first game in six tries against ACC competition.
That was the time the Jackets needed to trust their star and was the time junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt stepped up.
At 61-58, and IPFW shooting for a tie, Georges-Hunt, who’d been blanketing his man, two-guard Isaiah McCray, stepped in and pulled down the missed game-tying shot and started Tech going the other way. The ball found its way to sophomore Quentin Stephens, who hit a jumper for some breathing room. After another missed three, Georges-Hunt again took down the board. He got the ball to point Josh Heath, who again found Stephens, who nailed a J. Less than a minute later, Georges-Hunt pushed the lead to double-digits, nailing a three from the right side. The 7-0 burst, part of an 9-0 run, took less than two minutes and took the wind out of IFPW’s sails, as the lead didn’t get below seven over the final 2:30.
Coming through late is what every player lives for and what the good one thrive in. Georges-Hunt has license to thrill in that time.
“That’s a responsibility Coach [Gregory] gave me for this season, to make big plays at crucial moments,” said Georges-Hunt, who finished with 13 points, 10 of them coming in the second half.
While Gregory trusts Georges-Hunt to thrive late, Georges-Hunt, in turn, has total trust in his teammates.
“A lot of teams are going to be keeping their eye on me getting the ball late like that with the score like that,” he said. “But I feel like if all the attention is on me I have great enough teammates to be able to knock down shots. Like Quentin. I can always count on him. I can count on Josh [Heath]. But the ideal goal is to be in attack mode late in the game, to be aggressive and try to make something out of nothing.”
Coming into Friday night’s game people might have thought nothing more of IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne) as nothing more than a glorified directional school, not the school with the most wins last year in the state of Indiana and the best winning percentage — with five players with at least 10 starts returning. Tech head coach Brian Gregory knew better.
“IPFW was a team that won 25 games last year. They know what it takes to win,” said Gregory, whose Jackets are 3-0 for the third straight year and whose team has won six of its last seven games dating back to the end of 2013-14. “They put you in a lot of difficult situations because they stretch the court and take you off the dribble. They shoot just well enough from the three, and they did a little better in the second half. And then with [Steve] Forbes inside, you’ve got to be aware of his post-ups and post isolations.”
Listed at 6-9, 295, Forbes, a pre-season Summit League first-team pick, took root in the paint on both ends of the floor and created havoc. But the Demarco Cox (6-8, 276) bodied up and forced Forbes into an uncharacteristic 2-for-11 shooting in the first half (he’s a career 60.0 percent shooter).
“He was a pretty big boy down there. He’s kind of heavy,” said Cox, with a laugh. “But I’m used to playing against players his size. Coming from the SEC (Ole Miss), it was nothing new. Every game we play I always play against the biggest player.”
While Cox went 15 rounds with IPFW’s physically biggest player, Georges-Hunt helped limit their statistically biggest, guard Isaiah McCray, the 6-0, 180-pound little engine that can, who came in averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. McCray scored the Mastodons’ first two baskets but would get no more in the first half, as he’d be limited to five minutes due to foul trouble. He’d play only 11 minutes in the second half and score nine points.
“He scored the first four points on me. I told myself I can’t let him score any more but I also told myself he has to guard me on defense,” said Georges-Hunt. “Coach ran a couple of sets to try to get me the ball and get him in foul trouble. He wanted me to attack and be aggressive and assertive. McCray is a great player. Averaging a double-double at 6-0 is great. My job was to keep him off the glass. He had zero rebounds and was in foul trouble. So we held him to what we were supposed to hold him to.”
That ability to lockdown a quicker two is a positive sign in Georges-Hunt’s development and something Gregory would like to see continue.
“I thought he did a great job because he got McCray in some foul trouble,” said Gregory. “That’s a concern for us, Marcus guarding some of these super-quick twos, but I thought he did a good job on him and offensively was a big key for us in the second half. He had four of his five baskets in the second half.”
But despite the Mastodons’ two biggest threats stalemated the Jackets were unable to pull away. They took a six-point lead into the locker room, thanks to a running jumper at the buzzer by Heath, but Gregory felt they missed an opportunity. Tech made only two of eight free throw attempts and became stagnant on offense. The latter was especially surprising.
“We’ve gotten so much better with what we call the ball not sticking and we didn’t in the first half. It stayed on one side of the court so much,” said Gregory. “We have to evolve into a better offensive team where we trust what we’re doing, where we’re moving the ball. In the first half, we had a 10-point lead and that lead could have been more, one because of free throws and two, we had four, five or six possessions where the ball stuck. We can’t play that way.”
When the ball was moving, the offense clicked nicely.
Heath had his second straight clean game, again dishing out seven assists, giving him an 18 assists vs. one turnover through three games. Travis Jorgenson also ran the attack smoothly, recording three assists.
Getting assists might be as easy as getting the ball to Stephens, who had 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting, including hitting several key shots in the second half (he also hit the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds, with a team-high-tying three on the offensive end). The lanky 6-9 sophomore is averaging 14.0 ppg and appears to have found a weapon to take advantage of his length.
“He’s worked hard on that one- or two-dribble pull-up because if he can just get a little sliver of daylight he can shoot over guys,” said Gregory. “I’m pleased with his offensive development.”
The Jackets don’t play again unt.il Thursday, when they take on Marquette in the first game of the Orlando Classic. That’ll give the team plenty of time to work on some things.
“[3-0 is] the best we can be right now so I like that, but there are some areas that we need to tighten up,” he said. “Some of that can occur on the court and some of that can occur just by watching film and being a little more committed to what we need to get done.”