Dec. 7, 2010
By Jon Cooper
In a rivalry game, you can usually take theories and numbers and throw them in the garbage.
That was certainly true Tuesday night in Georgia Tech’s 73-72 gut-wrenching defeat to Georgia at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
In theory, Tech’s plan was to pack the zone and make Georgia beat them from three. That’s sound thinking against a team that came in hitting an SEC-worst .287. Southeastern Conference courts having the same dimensions as ACC courts, the theory was sound.
“Coming in we knew three point shooting wasn’t their big strength,” said forward Brian Oliver, who had 10 points, and had a tough night shooting (3-for-15, 2-for-8 from three). “We decided to play the zone against them to make them shoot tougher outside shots. We knew they’re not a real good shooting team. They shot it a little different tonight.”
About 54.5 percent different. They made 12-of-22 three-pointers, including 63.6 percent in the second half, while turning a six-point Jackets halftime lead around.
So confident were the Bulldogs at one point that even 6-10 forward Trey Thompkins, who came in 1-for-6 from behind the arc, stepped up and confidently took a long three from the top of the key. Normally that shot draws iron or glass, or some odd combination of the two. Tuesday night it was all nylon.
Tech switched back to man-to-man. Suddenly Georgia returned to mortality from three and the Jackets, who fell behind by six with less than eight minutes to go, fought back.
Oliver made his second field goal of the half, a three, then after a UGA basket, Jason Morris hit a three and Oliver hit a two-point jumper, bringing Tech to within one. On the next possession, Glen Rice, Jr., (14 points, a game-high 11 rebounds) stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a slam, giving Tech a one-point lead.
Less than two minutes later Moe Miller, who played inspired ball (nine points, four assists in 21 minutes) in his last shot at UGA, scored on a layup, then made a superb pass to Daniel Miller (seven points, nine rebounds, two blocks, two steals), who had what might be a coming-of-age game. Miller’s slam put Tech up 70-65, with 2:14 to play.
Back came Georgia and with 32 seconds left, and the game tied at 70, Daniel Miller sealed Thompkins off the baseline and Oliver came over to double-team, forcing a timeout.
In that timeout, Tech went for the element of surprise, going back into the zone.
“They ran that ball screen. I thought we did a pretty decent job getting on it but [point guard Gerald] Robinson’s really quick,” said Hewitt. “You have to respect his ability to get to the rim. You don’t want to give up a lay-up in that situation.”
Tech didn’t. They collapsed on Robinson. He would make a kick-out pass for what would be his sixth assist to a wide-open Dustin Ware, who would score his 19th, 20th and 21st points by making what would be his game-high seventh three in nine tries.
Befitting the rivalry, back came Tech.
Rice drove the court for a lay-up, cutting the lead to 73-72.
The idea was to make UGA, 11th in the SEC in free throw shooting (.633), make a pair of foul shots. Tech fouled Robinson, a .577 shooter. He proceeded to miss both shots.
Theory and practice in unison. Maybe this could be Tech’s night after all.
The second miss wasn’t rebounded cleanly and even though Tech would get possession, it wasn’t best-case, where the Jackets could fielded it cleanly and raced up court, with Moe Miller or Rice handling the ball.
Instead, Oliver would inbound from the far baseline, and try a play they work on in practice.
“It was actually supposed to be a set-up to get the ball to somebody in the half-court area,” said Oliver. “With 2.8 seconds left they can get two dribbles.”
Oliver chose to go for it all, throwing “Hail, Mary” toward Daniel Miller. It was intercepted and the clock ran out.
“My thinking was to throw it to Daniel, since he’s a big guy. Maybe they potentially hit him too hard and maybe they call a foul.” said Oliver. “But in all reality they wouldn’t have called it. It was a bad decision on my part.”
Hewitt refused to let his player throw himself under the bus.
“It’s just a read. It’s a back-screen by Iman, a screen by Glen and just see which way they go,” he said. “They all went to Daniel and unfortunately, we picked the wrong guy. I understood his mindset. We run that play in practice all the time. He thought maybe Daniel could go up and maybe get banged. It just didn’t happen for us.”
Tech really missed Iman Shumpert, who had a team-high 18 but only seven in the second half, when he was limited to 12 minutes due to cramps.
“It definitely took away a weapon for us when he went out,” said Oliver. “We had guys that we know can knock down shots. Glen played a good game. It was just a loss of another weapon out there on the floor.”
In the end, Tech came up one point — the way things were going, one shot — away from pulling it out. All that’s left is what might have been.
“I’d like to look at the film and see what was available at half court,” said Hewitt. “My guess is probably Glen and Iman were open and they would have had two dribbles at that point before they would have to get a shot off.”
In theory, that shot probably would’ve been perfect.