Recapping Georgia Tech's 90-83 win over N.C. State Wednesday night in Raleigh, N.C. (Five observations here)
Georges-Hunt delivers again
Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt played another excellent game. He scored 26 on 8-for-17 shooting, his third game in a row with 23 or more. More to the point, he came through with a number of critical baskets, probably none more so than his drive at the 10:32 after the Jackets’ 14-point halftime lead was reduced to a single point at 54-53.
A slew of turnovers and bad possessions by Tech gave the Wolfpack life, and a disaster loomed. PNC Arena, quieted so thoroughly by the Jackets in the first half, was now roaring.
Georges-Hunt missed on a drive, but after forward James White kept the possession alive with what coach Brian Gregory called “unbelievable effort,” he went back up for a basket and foul. The Wolfpack made matters worse when forward Abdul-Malik Abu was called for a technical foul for slamming the ball to the court. The Jackets got five points out of the trip, and the tension that had gripped each Tech possession released, triggering a 15-1 run that put the game away. Georges-Hunt scored 17 after halftime.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said the technical “is what turned the momentum” in the game. It was the kind of break that has often gone against Tech this season.
“The two extra free throws definitely helped, and after some of the stuff we’ve been through, I didn’t mind it at all,” Gregory said.
Georges-Hunt said he noticed teammates “looking around” during the N.C. State comeback, betraying their concern. His play and his encouragement were what the Jackets needed.
Georges-Hunt has become a more efficient scorer and continues to be a versatile defender. He leaves it on the floor each game and I think is better heeding Gregory’s urging to be more aggressive all the time. If the Jackets’ play picks up over the final 11 regular-season games, it’ll be on his shoulders.
“That’s what he’s supposed to do,” Gregory said of Georges-Hunt’s second-half binge. “He’s done that so many times for us.”
Gregory tweaked the lineup again, the fifth different starting lineup he has used this season. Guards Josh Heath, Adam Smith and Georges-Hunt and James White and Nick Jacobs at forward. After three consecutive losses, Gregory said he was searching for an answer.
He also said he wanted to defend N.C. State guard Anthony “Cat” Barber with Heath, who did a decent job defending him when he was in, although Barber went bananas in the second half. (Overall, Heath positively influenced the outcome, trying to deny Barber and coming up with three steals. One was one of the plays of the game, a backcourt pickpocket in the second half that turned into a layup for Georges—Hunt during Tech’s second-half getaway.)
It was the first game this season that Mitchell did not start. He contributed his 12th double-double; he was ninth in the country going into the game. Guard Travis Jorgenson did not play. More minutes went to guard Tadric Jackson, who helped defend Barber and had two assists but was 0-for-5 from the field.
What does it mean?
After losing three games in a row, any win is precious, but I’m not quite sure how much stock to put in this game as evidence that Tech has turned a corner. The Jackets made a lot of mistakes, probably enough to get them beat by a better, deeper team. Tech missed several fast-break attempts in the first half and then lost its way early in the second half.
The Jackets were up 52-39 when they had a nine-possession stretch in which they scored two points, enabling N.C. State to close to 54-53. In the nine possessions were five turnovers, some of them fairly ugly giveaways.
Also, N.C. State misses a lot of its own opportunities, particularly during a pretty weak first half that earned the Wolfpack a halftime lecture from Mark Gottfried.
Tech didn’t play poorly by any stretch – the Jackets controlled the glass, had two runs when they outscored N.C. State 31-5, did well taking care of the ball outside of their nine-possession meltdown (nine turnovers in 76 possessions) and finished the game well at the free-throw line, going 8-for-10 in the final minute when N.C. State guard Maverick Rowan got hot from 3-point range. To that end, the Jackets finally won the free-throw column, 34 to 24, although having the lead obviously was a factor. But even being even from the line is a victory for this group. Smith did major damage in the first half with 12 points, all on 3-pointers. He had had two 3-pointers in the previous two games combined.
I asked Georges-Hunt to compare the play to the past three games.
“I think it’s been the same,” he said. “I don’t think we played to the best of our ability. That’s the crazy thing. I feel like it’s been the same the last three games. We just found a way this time to pull it out.”
Saturday’s game at Syracuse will be a better test. The Orange aren’t their typical top-25 selves, but they’re better than N.C. State.
“We got to Syracuse, and we’ve got Duke at home (next Tuesday),” Mitchell said. “Two games I feel like we can win. We’ve just got to stay focused.”
“(An N.C. State player) kept telling me at the free-throw line – ‘Oh, dang, y’all are strong.’ I’m like, No, y’all are just worn down.” – Mitchell
“I feel like if you’re positive to someone, they’ll find confidence within themselves. Something inside will tell them they can do it and they can accomplish anything. My biggest thing was making sure everybody’s head was up, even when they got within one. I just told them to keep their composure and ‘Let’s execute and get stops.’” – Georges-Hunt
“The last couple weeks, he’s put together some pretty good games in a row and we’re going to need that. (He is) getting in extra work, so that was a good performance. We needed that tonight.” – Gregory on Jacobs, who finished with 20 points (his most since the second game of the season) on 8-for-14 shooting
Stat to note
Georges-Hunt was 9-for-9 from the free-throw line following a 12-for-12 game against Louisville Saturday. Going back to the Virginia Tech game, he has now made 22 consecutive free throws. He's got a ways to go to catch the school record holder, Mark Price (surprise), whose streak is in the 40's, I'm told. The ACC record is 66 by former N.C. State sharpshooter Scott Wood. (The streak ended against Tech in a Feb. 2012 game at Philips Arena.)
A look at how N.C. State and Tech performed in four critical categories. More information here.
Effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding percentage, turnover rate, free throws/field-goal attempts.
Interestingly, putting the categories into context, Tech really only won one category decisively, offensive rebounding. The last two minutes of the game kind of skewed the numbers.
N.C. State had a better effective field-goal rate, but Maverick Rowan making three of four 3-point tries in the final 4:05 to try to cut down a 12-point lead tilted that category in the Wolfpack’s favor. Free-throw rate was close to a draw until the final minute, when N.C. State started sending Tech to the line to get the ball back. The Jackets took 10 of their 34 free throws in the final 51 seconds. That said, they made eight of them to fend off N.C. State. The 51.5 percent was Tech’s highest rate of the ACC season by far. N.C. State’s 37.5 percent was the lowest rate for a Tech ACC opponent. Just as important for Tech, the Jackets were 29 for 34 (85.3 percent), their third best rate in a game this season.
Turnover rate was a virtual wash; N.C. State had one more turnover (10 to 9) in the same number of possessions.
Where Tech dominated was, again, in offensive rebounding. The 37.5 percent was its second-best number in seven ACC games and helped provide a 15-11 advantage in second-chance points. Georges-Hunt’s basket that led to the technical foul was a second-chance basket.
At the game
PNC Arena is one of my favorite places in the ACC to cover games in no small part because of the media seating, which is right on the baseline. Of the arenas I’ve been to, it probably has the best vantage point. I think being closer gives you a better feel for the game and I think you can have a better perspective on how much effort a team or player is expending on either end. Selfishly, I’d rather watch a game closer than farther.
I also enjoyed meeting some Tech alumni before the game at the Backyard Bistro across from the arena. My thanks to James Demby for the invitation. James shared the observation that I'd never thought about but that seems quite true, that there aren't a lot of N.C. State grads in Atlanta, particularly compared to North Carolina graduates. I think I only know one N.C. State grad who lives in Atlanta, and she grew up in Atlanta. (I'm not saying there aren't any; I'm just saying I don't think there's many as there are from other schools.)