Feb. 11, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Every now and then teams stumble upon a “trap game.”
It’s the kind that usually comes midweek, say a Wednesday night, when you’ve played a rugged stretch of games, against, I don’t know, nine of the top 10 teams in the conference, all close, hypothetically, decided by nine-or-fewer points, and a team, perhaps one with only one conference win, none on the road and several outright blowout losses, maybe seven of 10 losses at least 12 points, two of the last three by at least 20, comes in, and there’s a big rival up next.
It’s human nature to let your guard down a little, maybe subconsciously.
Suddenly it’s a dogfight. Their star, Devin Thomas, one of the best power forwards in the ACC, is dominating and you’ve got 20 minutes to overcome a four-point halftime deficit after trailing by as much as 11 in the first 20 minutes and only leading for a total of 12 seconds.
That was last night at McCamish Pavilion, as Georgia Tech was stuck in flypaper against stubborn Wake Forest.
So what do you do?
At halftime, the Jackets went to their giant, forward Charles Mitchell.
In the second half, Mitchell did what he does best, get dirty in the paint and get rebounds, while Marcus Georges-Hunt handled the offense, scoring a career-high 30, and Adam Smith hit a huge three late, as the Jackets, fought off Wake, 71-66.
“I told Chuck a lot of times he’s the heartbeat of our team,” said Coach Brian Gregory. “His energy and intensity level today was where it was so often earlier in the season. He responded. The 15 rebounds, when he does that we’re a different team and in the second half we really did a great job on the offensive glass. He kind of led the way for us.”
“In the first half he wasn’t quite as awake but at halftime we all spoke to him, even the coach said something,” said guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, who recorded his sixth double-figure game in six career games against the Demon Deacons. “I’m glad he woke up. He went back to being the old Chuck that everybody saw at the beginning of the season.”
Mitchell, who recorded double-doubles in each of the Jackets’ first nine games but only one in the last eight, answered the call. He scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds in the final 20 minutes, and, more important, helped limit Wake Forest’s double-double machine, Devin Thomas. Thomas, who had 14 points and six rebounds in the first half, would not add to his ACC-career-leading total of 32 double-doubles and would not record No. 12 on the season, as he’d score only six points and grab two rebounds.
“Devin Thomas came out hot in the first half,” said Mitchell. “We gave him angles and when you give a man angles that can score around the basket, just like you do in practice when there’s nobody around you, it’s an easy layup. He went into halftime with 14, finished with 20, so, a six-point second half, that’s good for us.”
“We challenged those post guys a little bit in the locker room because I didn’t like the way we defended him in the first half,” said Gregory. “Our post coverage wasn’t as physical as it needs to be. He’s a great player. We did a better job, plus we played more zone in the second half, which I thought was effective. It’s a good change-up and it was effective today.”
Mitchell was extremely effective. He played Wednesday with a chip on his shoulder after Sunday afternoon against Miami, when he pulled down a season-low two rebounds and bounced back in a big way, pulling in his ACC-season-high 15 boards, splitting it almost down the middle, getting seven on the offensive end and eight on the defensive side.
“I had to come out and make a statement on the glass,” said Mitchell, who had 15 total rebounds over his previous three games. “Two rebounds for me is not acceptable at all. It just ate at me coming into this game and will eat at me for the rest of the season.”
His obsession allowed Georgia Tech to hold a 13-9 edge on the offensive glass and earn a 9-4 edge in second-chance points and limited Wake’s fast break they went from 13 fast-break points in the first half to none in the second. They also dominated the paint outscoring Wake 30-22 in the paint in the second half and 48-22 for the game.
The Jackets also controlled the ball, committing only three turnovers, vs. nine in the first half and outscoring Wake 12-0 off them — they’d been outscored 17-10 in the first half.
“We took care of the ball. Our defense was much-improved in the second half to hold them to 40 percent and one-of-eight from three. So we did a good job of that. ” said Gregory. “We did a much better job on the glass, as well.”
The Jackets took the lead on a Georges-Hunt jumper with 12:39 to play, capping a 6-0 burst in 81 seconds, then, after one more tie, took the lead for good on a Georges-Hunt three-point play with 11:08 left and hold off the stubborn Demon Deacons.
On Wednesday, their sixth conference game decided by five-or-fewer points — all 11 have been decided by nine or fewer — it was the Jackets who delivered the back-breaking shot. Coming out of a timeout, Adam Smith, who endured his toughest night as a Jacket and faced only the second scoreless game of his career, having missed his first seven field goal attempts, three from downtown, and two free throw attempts, took a kick-out pass from the driving Georges-Hunt. Smith, wide open thanks to a perfect screen from Mitchell, stepped in and buried the three for the Jackets’ largest lead of the night, 66-59.
“Adam was like 0-fer for the whole game but to come around the corner and make that big shot, shows his resilience,” said Mitchell. “I’m proud of Adam for making that shot even though he had zero before that. Just stepping up and being that player to make that big shot in that big moment was big for us.”
“The last game against Miami we ran the same play. The first time we got it then the second time they drew an offensive foul on me,” said Georges-Hunt. “I just watched film and I read how I thought he was going to play it and I knew Adam would be wide open because of the extra action that we had going on. We executed that play and he got the open look.”
Wake twice pulled to within two, but Tech responded, each time getting the ball to Georges-Hunt, who put Sunday’s tough second half at the line behind him, netting four straight foul shots.
The Jackets showed impressive resolve in staying disciplined, even after a huge three-point shot by Wake’s Bryant Crawford, with 47 seconds remaining to make it 66-64.
“The intensity of those close games, being in so many close games you just hate that feeling of not winning that close game,” said Mitchell. “To be that team that’s always losing by a small margin and just errors that you made, it just eats at you. So when you have the opportunity to win those games its a happy moment at the end of the day.”
The Jackets can now look ahead to Saturday at Clemson. There will be no dwelling on the trap avoided, only a season-ending roll they hope Wednesday’s win started.
“There was a lot of good basketball from a lot of different guys,” said Gregory. “You have to get that first one to get some momentum, so tonight it was very, very important for us to do that.”