TGW: It's Our Turn!
Jackets make their breaks, finally get late one, in dramatic win over Notre Dame
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
There's a common belief that the breaks even out over time.
Georgia Tech men's basketball may beg to differ, pointing to its nine ACC losses this season by a total of 60 points (6.7 per loss) and last year's 13 conference losses by 47 points (3.6 per loss).
Marcus Georges-Hunt certainly has reason to dissent, as he’s had his fair share of final shots that didn't go his way, and an unfair number of those accompanied by clobberings with no whistle -- one of those coming last Jan. 3, at the end of regulation in South Bend, in what would result in a double-overtime loss to Notre Dame.
Georgia Tech and Georges-Hunt got one back Saturday night, when the senior guard's short jumper off the spin from in the lane hung on the rim then dropped in with two seconds remaining to lift the Jackets (15-12, 5-9) to a 63-62 win over No. 19/18 Notre Dame (18-8, 9-5) at McCamish Pavilion. The win was Tech’s second straight and third in four games.
"Let's be honest," said Georgia Tech Coach Brian Gregory, whose team ended a four-game skid to Notre Dame and has disposed of 14 games worth of losing streaks in its last two games (they disposed of a 10-game skid at FSU on Wednesday). "We got a similar shot for him last year in both those games and we came away empty. We were touched with a little favor tonight on that one. But it was a good play."
"I don't think it was any different than the thirty we've had in the last two years. I like the result a lot better than some of the other ones," Gregory added. "That was a great play by Marcus. He's made a lot of game-winning shots for us in his four years. He's missed some too, but he doesn’t bat an eye when we call his number in those big plays. That's why he is a great player."
"[I felt] just a lot of confidence in coach believing in me and my teammates believing in me once again, trusting me to make something happen in the last couple of seconds of the game," said Georges-Hunt, who finished with a game-high 19, his 22nd double-figure-scoring game of the season and 85th of his career. "It wasn't a lot of pressure. I just took a deep breath and went out there and executed what he drew up."
The enthusiastic crowd of 8,600 held its breath, as, with the clock under 10 seconds, Georges-Hunt got the ball from Adam Smith on the right side, used a screen from Charles Mitchell to get an opening, spun into the lane, and, despite being surrounded by a Fighting Irish triangle of 6-10, 245-pound center Zach Auguste, 6-5, 225-pound forward Bonzie Colson, and 6-5, 212-pound forward Steve Vasturia, who Gregory referred to as "one of the best defenders in the country," got enough clearance to put up the shot. The ball caught the front of the rim, hung there, then, climbed over and in. ND guard Demetrius Jackson's desperation three-quarter-court shot beat the horn but landed well off the mark.
"[Vasturia] gave me enough space to get a head of steam. Once he cut me off I spun back," Georges-Hunt recalled. “I was thinking somebody was going to be right there, but he was a step late. As I spun I had the opportunity to get my eyes on the rim and I locked in and put up a shot. A couple of possessions before that the ball was going in and out for me but I got the one that counted the most. I didn’t get down about the in-and-outs. If I would have missed that last shot there were enough guys around me, Charles and Nick [Jacobs], to get the rebound and put it back in. They had enough time to."
He was especially eager to share the credit.
"Quinton Stephens sprinting off the three screens to get the defense shifted and Charles [Mitchell] screening in my man helped a lot," said Georges-Hunt, who became the first Jacket since Jason Floyd on Jan. 2, 1999 at NC State to play all 40 minutes. "That's what got me open, really, because once I caught it, [Vasturia] was too far under me and that gave me the opportunity to attack him. Chuck did a great job of screening in and making him go under. I think that’s what freed me up, Quinton and Charles."
With 3:00 to play, it didn’t look like Georges-Hunt wouldn’t have the opportunity to take a deciding shot. Notre Dame, which overcame a seven-point halftime deficit in its previous game to knock off No. 13 Louisville, overcame Tech’s nine-point halftime lead and appeared in the driver’s seat having, holding a 60-54 lead over the Jackets, who shot 32 percent in the second half, and only 44.4 percent at the foul line (4-for-9).
But they never gave up, instead, they turned up the intensity.
"'We have to get a stop.' That’s what we were telling each other. Everybody was into it," said Georges-Hunt. "Notre Dame is the most efficient team in the country. They run everything to perfection, almost. We had to really lock in and focus and make sure we limited them to one shot."
Gregory pointed to his team’s execution on both ends of the floor down the stretch as the key to the comeback.
"Our execution during the last four possessions was tremendous," he said. "We got a first post, a good drive to the basket and a put-back, the three by Adam [Smith] and then Marcus’ shot. Execution was off the chart. Plus we got four straight stops defensively."
Smith hit a big three with 50 seconds remaining to answer what could have been a back-breaking layup by Auguste 20 seconds earlier. It was typical of Tech’s resolve all night.
The Jackets got a huge stop on Notre Dame’s final possession. A Jackson miss was batted around -- Auguste could not corral the rebound and appeared to hurt his knee on the play -- and Georges-Hunt and Stephens dove on the floor, tying up the Fighting Irish guard, forcing a jump ball, and setting up Tech’s opportunity with 17.6 seconds left.
The rest was history, as George-Hunt made the dramatic game-winner.
Center Nick Jacobs, who scored nine points, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and keyed a team effort by Tech bigs that gave Auguste fits -- holding him to 13 points, 11 fewer than the last time the teams met -- believes Saturday’s win will serve an emotional springboard heading into the final four regular-season games, then the ACC Tournament. He sees plenty of incentive in the rematches with Clemson, at Louisville and Pittsburgh (Tech also visits Boston College).
[“We need to] Stay focused,” said Jacobs, who hopes he’s as accurate in that prognostication as he was with the one he gave Gregory pregame Saturday, when he promised his coach 12 rebounds before finishing with four offensive boards and eight on the defensive end. “We’ll watch film, because we play Clemson. That’s another one we let get away. As a program, nobody’s going to beat us twice.”
Gregory hopes the seniors will continue to come up big and the rest of the team steps up for them.
“We have five seniors, and this has got to be about them,” he said. “It’s about the guys overall, but those five seniors, they’re going to determine if we are going to finish on a high note or not and I think they are taking even greater ownership.”
While the rest of the season belongs to the seniors, Saturday night belonged to Georges-Hunt.
“I’m happy for him,” Gregory said. “Marcus deserves it. You want good things to happen to good people. It doesn’t always work out that way, but you’ve got to stay strong in your belief that eventually the time is going to come. Tonight was one of those times.”