Looking back at Georgia Tech's 68-64 win over No. 4 Virginia Saturday at McCamish Pavilion. (5 observations here)
1. Asked if it was the biggest win of his tenure, coach Brian Gregory responded that wins over rival Georgia will always come first. (He’s 4-1 against the Bulldogs, taking his only loss in December.) His rationale is that he has been reared in programs where rivalry games were important (Michigan when he was an assistant at Michigan State, Xavier when he was at Dayton) and understands their place. Regardless, you could obviously make a very good case that this win surpasses those.
Virginia is No. 4 in the country, a conference opponent and one that has pulled Tech’s pants down pretty thoroughly a couple times. The Yellow Jackets won in a way that they often hadn't, after taking an early lead before dropping back into a tie. Further, Tech won with a well-played game – tough defense, timely shot-making and with smart play. After fouling a combined 47 times against North Carolina and Pittsburgh, the Jackets committed only 17 fouls Saturday.
2. Forward Quinton Stephens had played three minutes against Pitt and had scored 10 points in the past six games. Gregory saw starter material. It goes a little beyond that, obviously. Stephens offers better perimeter defense than the player he replaced, point guard Josh Heath, and more scoring potential. Gregory also saw someone who was staying positive despite the dearth of minutes against Pitt and his offensive struggles.
“I’m proud of him, not just because of the performance, but because of his attitude, how he’s approached things over the last couple of weeks,” Gregory said. “And that’s why we inserted him into the starting lineup, to be honest with you. Nothing’s more important than how we’re supposed to do things on a daily basis and ‘Q’ does them.”
Stephens is still trying to find some scoring consistency. You may remember he lit up Georgia for 22 in the season opener last year, but hasn’t scored in the 20’s again. He’s had nine double-digit scoring games in the past season and a half, but also had 14 games in which he scored two or fewer points.
Like forward Nick Jacobs and James White, he could give Tech a big lift by being dependable for six to eight points a game, particularly with the way he can shoot from the outside. (He does give Tech other contributions, particularly rebounding.)
Said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, “He’s got such a nice stroke.”
Stephens wasn’t the only lineup change. Gregory swapped out Jacobs for James White at one forward spot. Jacobs had started 13 of 15 games and White had started the other two. Both responded – White had six points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes while Jacobs had 16 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes. White had six critical points early in the second half, hustling for offensive rebounds and putbacks as the Cavaliers tried to get back in the game.
“Believe it or not, we were playing great defensively, but those (putbacks) are killers,” Bennett said. “You take ’em to the end of the shot clock, and then all of the sudden, they’re offensive rebounding, running offense again and laying it back in. That happened too much.”
Gregory also held guard Travis Jorgenson out for the entire game. It was the first time in his career that he has not played in a game when not injured.
“Just coach’s decision,” Gregory said. “He’s got to be ready to go because, the way we play, it could be him (in a role like Stephens) the next game.”
3. A nice moment for guard Marcus Georges-Hunt. He has endured a lot of difficult losses in his four years at Tech, and it certainly looked like he might have been headed for another one Saturday when the Cavaliers pulled even at 49 with 6:09 remaining after trailing by as many as 13. Stephens’ heroics saved the day, though, and Tech had its victory, ending a 15-game losing streak for the Jackets in ACC games decided by seven points or fewer (going back to the end of the 2013-14 season).
“It’s about our guys,” Gregory said. “This whole thing’s about our guys and what they’ve been through and the trials and tribulations that they’ve been through. They deserve this win, but now we’ve got to go keep earning more.”
Georges-Hunt said he got chills when he came out of the locker room and saw the arena full.
“This win can start something special,” he said, “start the journey that we’ve planned since last March.”
Georges-Hunt scored just five points on 1-for-6 shooting, but contributed four assists and two steals. He was defended by Virginia All-American guard Malcolm Brogdon, the Greater Atlanta Christian guard. Matched up against each other, neither did well. Brogdon scored a game-high 19, but took 20 shots and was 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
“It’s always aggressive,” Georges-Hunt said. “He’s physical, (a) physical guard just like me, so it’s like we’re just going back and forth, back and forth, banging.”
^ Four statistical categories deemed critical to success - effective field goal percentage (field goal percentage giving proportional value to 3-pointers, turnover percentage (turnovers per possession), offensive rebound percentage (offensive rebounds relative to all available rebounds), free throws per field-goal attempt. Further explanation here.
Tech and Virginia split the four factors, with the Jackets decisively taking effective field goal percentage and offensive rebounding percentage. Virginia’s wins in turnover percentage and free-throw rate were not as pronounced. Virginia did get to the free-throw line 22 times, but only made 14 (63.6 percent), well below their season rate of 76.0 percent. Their superiority in turnover percentage was also negated by their poor effective field-goal percentage, well below what North Carolina (52.5) and Pitt (54.2) did against the Jackets.
Tech’s offensive rebounding work netted 15 second-chance points to seven for Virginia.
Stats to note
Tech’s largest lead over Virginia was 15 points, with 1:21 left in the first half. It is the largest lead that any team has had on Virginia this season.
Tech last beat a ranked team at home in the 2009-10 season, No. 17 Clemson by a 66-64 score. The Jackets had lost the next eight home games against ranked opponents.
“Credit to Georgia Tech. You’ve got a better team. I know they’ve played twice on the road and fought against Carolina and Pitt, and they’re so much more balanced inside-out this year. That was an issue. Whenever we got it close, they hit a couple big shots.” – Bennett
“It’s much easier to improve on the defensive end than it is on the offensive end because, the defensive end, most of it has to do with heart, toughness, discipline, communication. Not one of those is talent-based. More times than not, you do those four things if it becomes really important to you. Now, we’re not going to be as good defensively as we have been in the past. We don’t maybe have the size inside or the size on the perimeter. At times, we’re a smaller team on the perimeter, but we can be much better than we were the first two games. We can be like this against a good offensive team, but there’s still some areas even today that are glaring that, if we can tighten up, we can take another jump.” – Gregory
“As a captain, I was just trying to stay composed, make sure my guys were in it as well as me, because stuff like that, it’s easy to get down on yourself. So I was a little bit surprised, but I was really looking forward to the opportunity, so I just tried to make the most of it. On top of that, my teammates had my back. They were excited for me and they let me know that. That actually meant a lot to me.” – Stephens on starting after playing three minutes against Pittsburgh
At the game
Attendance was 8,073 (capacity is 8,600), by far the best home attendance of the season. Tech was averaging 5,008 (announced). The largest crowd prior was Cornell for the season opener at 6,459. It was probably at least a third Virginia fans, if not more. Regardless, it was a loud, energetic atmosphere. Georges-Hunt said it gave him chills when he came out of the locker room and saw the nearly-full arena.
Ashanti Floyd, aka “The Mad Violinist” played the national anthem and also the halftime show. A truly gifted artist and very different from Frisbee dogs. Someone observed to me that Gregory will probably do whatever he can to make sure Floyd plays as many home games as possible.
I was a little surprised that the student section didn't storm the court. I'm not saying students should have, but given that this was a win long coming and that Virginia is a top-five team, I figured it might happen. A couple mitigating circumstances: It wasn't a dramatic finish, it's early in the season and maybe it wasn't on students' minds. Tech's last court storming, to the best of my knowledge, was January 2010, when Tech beat No. 5 Duke. And, actually, it was five years to the day of the Virginia game. And Tech was ranked No. 20 in the country at that point. I suppose there still is something inherently different about beating Duke or North Carolina than Virginia, Louisville or Miami, regardless of ranking.
Perhaps it wasAfter the game, Georges-Hunt said that the locker room after the game wasn't excessively jubilant. (Adam Smith said that a few players were throwing water, but "me and Marcus were like, Y'all got to chill out.")
“It was like we expected to win,” he said. “You won this one, but I’m already thinking about next week and South Bend (Ind.).”