WASHINGTON – Reviewing Georgia Tech’s 88-85 overtime win over Clemson in the second round of the ACC tournament. Updated 5 observations from the game here.
In the final 16 possessions of regulation, Tech scored on 15 of them and scored 31 points, an average of 1.94 points per possession. An excellent per-game rate is 1.15. Had Tech maintained that rate for all of regulation, the Jackets would have scored 143 points.
Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 19 points on nine of the possessions, including the first eight points of the comeback. He drew six fouls, including one on a 3-point shot that gave him three free throws (all of which he made).
“He got super aggressive at the perfect time,” guard Josh Heath said.
It was Tech’s largest comeback in a win in coach Brian Gregory’s tenure and the largest since Nov. 2001, when the Jackets erased a 20-point deficit with 16 minutes against Wisconsin to win 62-61 in an ACC-Big Ten challenge game. Playing 27 minutes and scoring nine points that night was sophomore Marvin Lewis, whom I believe was in attendance at the Verizon Center Wednesday night.
“Miracle, I guess,” forward Nick Jacobs said.
Simply by makeup, it’s a different team than last year’s – three of the most integral players on this team didn’t play a minute last season and two weren’t even at Tech. Still, it’s difficult (for me, at any rate) to not think back to how consistently that team lost by giving away leads and failing to make plays when it had to do so, and so it makes this run all the more striking.
“It feels really good to steal some games just like that,” Heath said.
Coming back from six down to beat Notre Dame by forcing stops on three of the final four possessions against one of the most efficient offenses in the country and getting clutch baskets from Charles Mitchell, Adam Smith and Georges-Hunt. Coming back from 13 down early in the second half against Clemson. Nearly stunning Louisville on senior night, having three chances in the final minute to tie the Cardinals after having been down 11 with 5:30 left and eight with 2:15 left. Beating Pitt on senior day after falling behind nine late in the first half.
“I don’t think last year we would have been able to come back from 18 down with eight to go,” said Jacobs, who sat out the season as a transfer.
What’s even more remarkable about Wednesday is how off its game Tech was until the final comeback, making it all the more impressive how the Jackets were able to stay poised.
“We’ve got a lot on our shoulders and as seniors, we know this is our last go-round,” Jacobs said. “We sort of let stuff get away from us in the first half with turnovers and all that stuff.”
Said Georges-Hunt, “They were playing great defense. We had careless mistakes. We had a lot of turnovers.”
Following Gregory’s encouragement to just chip away at the lead, Tech did pretty much that.
“I think a young team will go about it like, we’re going to get it all back in one or two possessions,” Smith said. “It’s basketball – it just doesn’t work that way. You’ve just got to keep chipping away.”
Prior to the 71-66 win over Wake Forest on Feb. 7, Tech had lost 20 of its past 22 ACC regular-season games decided by fewer than 10 points. The Jackets closed the season by winning six of the final eight regular-season games. They were 6-1 in games decided by single digits. Wednesday was another in the win column, in most dramatic fashion.
This season, Tech’s record in single-digit ACC games (not including Wednesday) is 8-9. As has been said often, you can frame numbers different ways to make them say what you want.
“Times like this, games like this, you have to stay calm, stay poised, just believe in your craft, your teammates and coaching staff,” Georges-Hunt said.
Big help from White
Forward James White played a significant role in the comeback. He scored on a putback and picked up a foul on Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame (his third, nudging him into foul trouble before he ultimately fouled out in overtime), dug out a loose ball that he passed out to Smith for a 3-pointer and was fouled again by Blossomgame with 2:20 on an inbounds alley-oop pass for Blossomgame’s fourth foul.
With Blossomgame and center Landry Nnoko both with four fouls, Georges-Hunt said that he knew they weren’t going to try to avoid fouling, freeing him to drive more aggressively.
In overtime, White scored the team’s first two baskets (on putbacks) to put the Jackets ahead 84-81 to begin zipping the game up.
Prior to the Florida State game, White said that Gregory had challenged him to use his explosiveness and energy to impact games in his limited playing time. Wednesday was a quite persuasive demonstration of how White, whom teammates say is the most athletic player on the team, can fill up his stat line. In 23 minutes, he scored eight points on 4-for-4 shooting, had eight rebounds (five offensive), an assist and a block.
“I can’t stress enough how James stepped up tonight,” Jacobs said.
In the stars
If you are a believer in fate and things happening for a reason, as Georges-Hunt does, his broken foot at the end of last season looks a little differently. Georges-Hunt suffered the injury running upcourt, with no one around him, in the final game of the regular season, an 81-49 loss to North Carolina. It seemed one more crushing blow on a really difficult season, and was undoubtedly a factor in Tech’s 66-65 loss to Boston College in the opening round of the ACC tournament, the team’s seventh defeat by three points or fewer in ACC games that season against no such wins.
Having to watch that game from the bench, he said recently, helped him come out of his shell to become more communicative with teammates, a skill that has served the Jackets well this season. Watching his teammates practice over the summer and play on their three-game trip to the Bahamas, for that matter, whetted his appetite to play with (and lead) a team that was building chemistry and had obvious potential.
More germane to the end of Wednesday’s game, during his rehabilitation over the summer, with his mobility reduced, Georges-Hunt made use of the time by honing his shooting stroke, making it more technically sound. At the Zelnak practice facility, he took hundreds of free throws while sitting in a chair.
He is shooting 82.2 percent from the free-throw line this season. He was 15-for-16 Wednesday, each make of critical importance. He made 6-of-6 in the final 1:10, when Tech was still down five points. He made the last two to tie the game at 80 with 12.9 seconds to go, when a miss would have given control of the game to Clemson.
“Just pictured me being inside Zelnak, just one on one, just me shooting free throws and nobody else is in the arena,” he said. “That’s how I see it. Me and the goal. Just talk to myself in my head and go through my rhythm, my routine.”
How the two teams fared in four critical statistical categories, effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free throws/field-goal attempt. More information here.
Clemson’s slightly better shooting and better stewardship of its possessions were outweighed – if only barely – by Tech’s considerable advantage on the offensive glass and at the line. Clemson was 31 for 67 from the field compared to Tech’s near-identical 30-for-66, but made 10 3-pointers to Tech’s six. (The Tigers missed their last seven attempts beyond the arc, however.)
Tech’s offensive rebounding (52.7 percent is a mammoth number) fueled the comeback late, as the Jackets scored the first four of their eight points in overtime off putbacks and had eight second-chance points out of their final 23 in regulation. Free throws were likewise a big plus for Tech, as the Jackets were 22-for-29 while Clemson was 13-for-19. You’ll remember that a downfall early in the ACC season was its inability to defend without fouling, leading to significant disparities at the line in losses to North Carolina, Pitt and Virginia Tech.
“We couldn’t get rebounds. They made a lot of free throws down the stretch,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “That was the difference.”
“It’s a great group. We were 2-8 in the league, now we’ve gone 8-2 (actually, 7-2). How many teams can flip it? That’s the character of the guys. The toughness of the guys, the character of the guys. We’re not perfect by any stretch, but I wouldn’t trade this team for anybody.” – Brian Gregory