Recapping Georgia Tech's 75-73 win over Clemson Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion. (Five observations from the game here.)
Georges-Hunt does it again
Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt threw the team on his back again. He played 39 minutes, was 8-for-10 from the field, scored a team-high 25 points, had five rebounds and four assists (he did turn the ball over an uncharacteristic five times), scored the game-winning free throws and contained Clemson’s most dangerous scorer in the second half. He was also 8-for-9 from the free-throw line on a night when each one was critical.
He made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half to cut Clemson’s lead to single digits and helped keep his team composed when it fell behind by 13 points early in the second half of a game it absolutely had to have.
With Tech’s three-game winning streak – the Jackets’ first in ACC regular-season play since 2007-08 – it’s no surprise that Georges-Hunt has been at the heart of it. He had 27 points with four assists against Florida State, then 19 with seven assists and the game-winning buzzer-beater against Notre Dame and then his performance against Clemson.
“I feel like we’ve been there so many times,” he said. “You’ve got to get sick and tired of it and you have to do something about it.”
Coach Brian Gregory switched Georges-Hunt onto Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame late in the first half, a move that he stuck with at halftime. Blossomgame, an 18.1 points-per-game scorer coming off a 33-point game against N.C. State, torched the Jackets with 17 points in the first half on just 11 shots. He’s a matchup problem because he plays the “stretch-4” power forward spot, so Tech matches up with him with a post player, but he was too quick for forward Charles Mitchell and center Ben Lammers.
Georges-Hunt had already spent the first half showed his versatility by defending 6-foot-2 guard Avry Holmes and 6-foot-8 forward Donte Grantham. Now he was getting Blossomgame, who at 6-foot-7 has two inches on Georges-Hunt, his former teammate with the Georgia Stars AAU team. In the second half, Blossomgame had just five points on 2-for-8 shooting.
“I told Marcus at halftime, ‘Alright, you know where you want to get to and where you want to bring this team, so you’re going to have to do it on both ends this half,’” Gregory said. “‘You’re just going to have to do it.’”
With his combination of confidence, effectiveness and a glue-guy leadership style, he is leading the Jackets in a way that hasn’t been seen in a while. If the Jackets have indeed morphed into a group different than the one that repeatedly found ways to lose late in games, he gets a lot of the credit.
“They’re just playing really well,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “They believe in each other, and they got a guy in Marcus Georges-Hunt who’s an all-league type guy.”
In the background
Forward Quinton Stephens and Lammers both figured prominently in the outcome. Stephens, making his sixth start of the season, kicked in 11 points on nine shots, including 3-for-8 shooting from 3-point range, and also had seven rebounds, tied for the high on the team with Lammers. He also was switched onto point guard Jordan Roper in the second half when Gregory changed assignments to put Georges-Hunt on Blossomgame. Stephens has a length advantage, but Roper is quicker than Stephens.
Roper had also battered the Jackets for 15 points in the first meeting two Saturdays ago. But Roper, who came into the game averaging 9.5 points per game, was 0-for-2 in the second half (he was scoreless for just the second time this season) and was held to two assists after halftime after getting four in the first.
Stephens is very much an X-factor for the Jackets; Gregory had said last week that “we’re just a much better team” when Stephens is scoring because of the way he can take pressure off Smith and Georges-Hunt and the post players to take on more of the scoring load. Tech is 6-0 this season when he scores in double figures and 7-7 when he scores three or fewer.
With fellow backup big James White limited to seven minutes with foul trouble, Lammers gave 21 minutes, tied for his third most this season and two more than starting post man Nick Jacobs.
He erased four Clemson shots with blocks, tying his career high. Most notably, he used his 6-foot-10 frame to reach out and deflect Donte Grantham’s 3-point try with 32 seconds left. Grantham had made three of six three-point tries in the second half; had it gone in, the Jackets would have lost the lead and gone down 73-71.
“The block on Grantham probably saved the day, because the way he’d been shooting, he wasn’t going to miss that,” Gregory said. “(Lammers) is a really good player, and we got 21 minutes out of him in a game of this magnitude – that was huge.”
Instead, Tech retained its 71-70 lead and Clemson was now forced to foul. The Tigers sent Adam Smith to the free-throw line and he made both free throws, which proved critical when Grantham tied it up on a 3-pointer on the next possession.
Both Lammers and Stephens are coming on in the final games of the season, becoming increasingly confident and consistent in what they give the team each game.
“‘Q’ was very active on the glass and Ben was all over the place,” Georges-Hunt said.
In the balance
Tech is at a very strange juncture. There is, obviously, the possibility that Gregory may lose his job at the end of the season. But, with three wins in a row and four out of the past five, there is also the real, if somewhat remote, possibility that Tech could still play its way into an NCAA tournament at-large bid. And, with Tech playing awful defense in the first half and then falling behind by 13 points with 16:57 to play in the game, it seemed that all of it swayed back and forth Tuesday night. Lose the game, and Tech’s NCAA tournament hopes are probably shot, and the possibility of Gregory being retained dims. Come back and win the game, and the momentum continues to grow.
It was kind of like that scene in “Back to the Future” when Marty McFly is watching himself disappear from his family photo. (It makes me feel old referencing a movie that is 31 years old and thinking that everyone's going to understand it. For the younger readers, an explanation.) But, down 13 to a team that has fairly owned the Jackets, Tech slowly worked its way back into the game. Stephens won a defensive rebound from Clemson center Sidy Djitte to seal a stop. Jacobs missed a wide-open shot at the rim, but Mitchell kept the possession alive with an offensive rebound, and then Jacobs was fouled and made both free throws. Tadric Jackson made a strong challenge on a 3-pointer by Holmes to force a miss and a stop, and then set up Mitchell for a basket to cut the lead to nine. Jackson later hit a 3 to cut it to eight, and then White stole the ball from Blossomgame, creating a Georges-Hunt transition score to cut it to six, rousing the crowd, and setting the stage for Georges-Hunt and Smith to close down the game in the final minutes.
Clemson went from running a clinic in the first half – 18-for-34 from the field with 15 of the baskets set up by assists – to scoring 29 points in the second half on 11-for-28 shooting.
“As a group, we’re confident,” Smith said. “We have different people, people like Chuck and Nick and even Q, he steps up in moments like this, just kind of says, like, One possession at a time. That’s all that’s in everyone’s mind. We know we’re really confident on offense. It’s the defense that you really have to dig in in moments like that, down 13 early in the second half. Just one possession at a time on defense, stop, rebounds, offense will take care of itself. And we trusted it, we believed. Before we knew it, we were right there.”
There’s plenty of time for this to turn out a number of different ways. But, for one more night, at least, it was certainly quite intriguing.
Stat of the game
Tech’s 75 points were the most it has scored against Clemson coach Brad Brownell, who took the Tigers job in April 2010. In the first 12 games against Brownell, Tech had averaged 55.8 points, and the Jackets were 1-11.
A look at how the two teams fared in four critical statistical categories - effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, turnover percentage and free throws/field-goal attempts. More information here.
Interestingly, Tech won three of the categories rather decisively, not the norm for a game decided by two points. I think the offensive rebounding percentage differential is a little overstated because neither team ended up with many offensive rebounds. Tech had six and four second-chance points and Clemson had seven with three second-chance points.
Clemson’s advantage in turnover percentage was counterbalanced by Tech’s accuracy from the field (63.5 percent was its highest rate of the ACC season) and its advantage in getting to the free-throw line. Clemson’s five free throws were the fewest a Tech opponent has taken by five and tied for the second fewest allowed by the Jackets in Gregory’s tenure, according to sports-reference.com. Further, Tech was 14-for-15 from the line. The Jacket haven’t had much experience with winning games at the free-throw line - coming into the game, ACC opponents had taken 336 free throws to Tech's 266 - but had the opportunity Tuesday.
“I’m a believer. People asked me, especially last year, losing a lot of close games, and asking if I was down or depressed about losing close games. I never got down. I just kept thinking of ways where, What can I do to make sure we win each close game and better my teammates?” – Georges-Hunt
“We’ve always fought. I said it after the last game, you need to win some of those games and, in a lot of ways, you’ve got to get a bounce here or there that goes your way. And every disappointment, every tough time, every bit of adversity all just kind of sets up for where you’re right now, and it’s all part of the plan, it’s all part of the process, and the guys have just got to keep fighting through it, and that’s what they’ve done. The guys get all the credit for that.” – Gregory
“It feels good. I wish I could have beat ’em in Littlejohn (Coliseum). That would have been better, but we beat ’em last year at home and this year here again, so it feels good.” – Georges-Hunt