5 things to know before Georgia Tech-South Carolina

031616 Atlanta: Georgia Tech guard (5) Corey Heyward and the bench react as he hits a three pointer near the end of the game on the way to beating Houston 81-62 during their first round NIT basketball game on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

 Georgia Tech guard Corey Heyward delights in a 3-pointer made late in the Yellow Jackets’ win over Houston last Wednesday in a first-round NIT win at McCamish Pavilion. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Previewing Georgia Tech’s second-round NIT matchup with South Carolina Monday night at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. The game will tip at 9 p.m. and will be broacast on ESPN. My story on backup center Ben Lammers’ development this season leading into the game. Also, who is Tech coaching great Bobby Cremins (a South Carolina alumnus) rooting for Monday night?

On South Carolina

South Carolina is a little bit like Tech – the Gamecocks play a physical style and love to hit the offensive glass. According to teamrankings.com, South Carolina is ranked No. 13 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (36.3 percent), just behind Tech at 12th. The Gamecocks aren’t as strong on the defensive glass (141st at 73.1 percent), perhaps giving the Jackets an advantage. (Tech is 45th at defensive rebounding percentage at 75.8 percent.)

South Carolina is also like Tech in that it scores better in the first half than it does the second half.

Expect a lot of free throws – the Gamecocks average 26.1 free throws per game, 10th in the country. They also commit 20 fouls per game, 219th in the country. South Carolina is among the worst at turning it over and also among the best at forcing turnovers.

Potentially game-changing: South Carolina is great at defending inside the 3-point arc – 11th in two-point field-goal percentage at 42.6 percent – but pretty awful at defending 3-poitners –222nd at 35.4 percent. South Carolina is obviously well aware of Adam Smith’s capacity from 3-point range, making that aspect of the game worth watching. Also interesting is that the Gamecocks are at least somewhat O.K. with the trade or are unable to address it. Opponents take 23.8 3-pointers per game, 23rd most in the country.

Players to watch: Forward Michael Carrera (14.4 points, 7.8 rebounds per game) was first-team All-SEC. Guard Sindarius Thornwell was SEC all-defensive team. (At 6-foot-5, I’d expect to see him assigned to guard Marcus Georges-Hunt.) Guard Duane Notice was sixth man of the year.

Jackets may go far Tuesday

The NIT’s efforts (or more accurately ESPN’s) to try to squeeze in its games when the NCAA tournament is not in action has led to a rather unusual travel situation for the Jackets, should they prevail over South Carolina Monday night. The quarterfinal game will be held Wednesday night at either San Diego State or Washington. The two teams also play Monday night, at 11:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Tech will stay overnight in Columbia Monday night and, if the Jackets win, fly out Tuesday for either San Diego State or Washington, with no return trip to Atlanta. Fortunately for players, Tech is on spring break this week. The quarterfinal game is at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

“They said pack for five days,” Georges-Hunt said. “I’m cool with that.”

The pressure has been on basketball operations director Chris Jacobs to arrange travel, hotel and practice accommodations.

It is a result of the NIT not having regional brackets and the teams’ playing on campus. Of the eight teams in Tech’s bracket, three are from the Southeast, three are from the West Coast and the other two are from Indiana and Texas.

Ignoring suspensions

Asked about South Carolina’s five suspended players, Georges-Hunt said he knew nothing about it. Coach Brian Gregory confirmed that he hadn’t brought it up to the team. (Prior to its first-round win over High Point, South Carolina suspended five players, apparently for their involvement in a series of vandalism crimes involving a high-powered BB gun.) Only two of the five, Marcus Stroman and Chris Silva, had been playing significant minutes, as two of three backups in the rotation.

Gregory noted that the Gamecocks beat High Point in the first round by 20 points and lost to Georgia in the SEC tournament by one point without leading scorer Michael Carrera (out with a hip injury; he is back).

“So they’ve got plenty of players,” Gregory said.

I thought he might bring it up if only as part of the scouting report, that the team only has one backup who has received consistent minutes, but evidently not.

Said Gregory, “We don’t talk about that.”

ACC vs. SEC

The ACC is 9-6 against the SEC this season. Tech itself is 2-1, with wins over Arkansas and Tennessee and a loss to Georgia. Tech is 4-2 against common opponents (Arkansas, Clemson, Georgia and Tennessee) and South Carolina is 3-4 with three losses to the Bulldogs.

Gregory said he didn’t speak with Clemson coach Brad Brownell for any insights on the Gamecocks, as the game took place back in December. Still, to prepare, he did watch their intra-state game, a 65-59 win for South Carolina on Dec. 18, “because, obviously, I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Clemson and Brad and what they do, some of our defensive stuff is very similar.”

In praise of Corey Heyward

This is unrelated to Monday’s game, but I neglected to mention it after the first-round game against Houston. For the first time since the Colgate game Dec. 23, Gregory felt comfortable enough with the lead to empty out his bench, sending in guard Corey Heyward and walk-on forward Rand Rowland in for the final minute. (Until the 81-62 win over the Cougars, every win was by seven points or fewer.)

With the game essentially over, Heyward hit a 3-pointeer from the left wing right in front of the bench, and the bench, as you might expect, responded with enthusiasm. My colleague Curtis Compton got a couple great shots of the moment (one above, one below). This season hasn’t been the most enjoyable for Heyward, whose playing time has declined since his freshman season. He played 32 games, starting 15, as a freshman. Last year, he played 19 games and started three. This season, he has played a total of 20 minutes. Greater depth at the point, in the form of Travis Jorgenson and Josh Heath, has pushed Heyward down the bench. Rather than pout and grumble, though, his enthusiasm on the bench has been obvious, and he has tried to find ways to contribute.

“He’s just been positive,” Georges-Hunt said. “Going from starting to sitting down, he’s always had a positive attitude. Let me tell you – he goes at us in practice every day, and I think that helps us, too, that he attacks us in practice.”

**** VISUAL LEDE ****  031616 Atlanta: Georgia Tech guard Corey Heyward (from left) and the bench Tadric Jackson, Quinton Stephens, and Adam Smith react as he hits a three pointer near the end of the game on the way to beating Houston 81-62 during their first round NIT basketball game on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

This shot captures the chemistry that has helped the Jackets to 20 wins. Assistant coach Mamadou N’Diaye (in the photo, just to the left of Quinton Stephens’ hip) apparently wasn’t too keen on the basket. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

 


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