#TGW: Out of the Neighborhood
Jackets test themselves against the up-tempo, high-possession Cougars in the opening round of the NIT
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
- Marcus Georges-Hunt hurt his tailbone in a tumble Thursday against Virginia, and he and his Georgia Tech teammates were disappointed Sunday upon missing the NCAA Tournament, but he's better now, and the Yellow Jackets have a chance to heal.
When they host Houston Wednesday in a first-round NIT game in McCamish Pavilion, the Jackets will play past the ACC Tournament for the first time in six years. Tech will no longer on the outside looking in on the postseason.
That feels better, and so does Georges-Hunt's tailbone, which the senior fell on in that loss to the Cavs.
"It's the first time [in the postseason] for me," he said. "It's better than sitting at home watching other teams play."
The Jackets (19-13) will play at home Wednesday, yet for the first time in more than two months, they're going to leave the neighborhood. The past 20 games were all played against ACC opponents, and head coach Brian Gregory said that 12 of those games were against teams that finished in the top 30 in RPI.
The Cougars (22-9) will try to push the pace, and the Jackets are looking forward to testing themselves against a new foe.
"They didn't play us during the season like other teams did so I think it's to our advantage on our home court," said senior Charles Mitchell. "We can play freely, and put in some plays like we did at the beginning of the year and just play basketball."
It's not like the NIT did Tech a favor by scheduling Houston.
The Cougars led the American Athletic Conference while averaging 74.2 points per game in conference action and 77.9 overall. They've shot 46.7 percent as a team, make nearly seven 3-pointers per game, and they have wins over NCAA Tournament teams UConn, Temple, Tulsa and Cincinnati, plus victories over SMU and LSU.
Sophomore guard Rob Gray, Jr., led the AAC in scoring (16.3) even though he usually plays off the bench. Junior guard Damyeun Dotson and senior forward Devonta Pollard are double-digit scorers, and point guards Ronnie Johnson and Galen Robinson combine for 17.4 points per game.
This is a seasoned bunch. The Cougars have six former junior college players, and transfers from Purdue, Baylor and Oregon. Pollard was a teammate of Tech's Nick Jacobs at Alabama for one season before a stint in junior college.
Houston was seeded second in the AAC Tournament and playing for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament before being upset by No. 10 Tulane.
"They have great flexibility," Gregory said. "They play fast; they average 80 possessions a game . . . [Gray] is a dynamic offensive player. He can shoot the 3, and really put the ball on the floor. Dotson has been playing incredible.
"One of the points guards, Ronnie Johnson, I recruited at Dayton. He went to Purdue first -- unbelievable quickness and speed. You don't win 22 games and 11 in that league without being really good."
Georges-Hunt's looking forward to the challenge.
"Oh, I don't mind [the pace]. I'm down for it," he said. "I feel great. There's nothing keeping me away. I'm good to go."