The calendar hasn’t even turned to February, and Georgia Tech just played the kind of basketball game it wants to play in March. Tough team defense. A strong presence inside. Freshmen all over the floor making plays — blocking shots, hitting jumpers, not throwing away the ball — or hope.
And when was the last time things went so well that coach Paul Hewitt used only two timeouts?
Tech didn’t just win an ACC game Thursday. It made a fairly significant statement about avoiding the kind of backslide that has plagued this program the past few years. The Jackets bounced back from a loss at Florida State by leveling Wake Forest 79-58. In doing so, they held the Demon Deacons to 32.8 percent shooting. They blocked eight shots. Even the opposing coach acknowledged that Tech won the physical battles. (Statistical evidence: Tech dominated the boards in the second half, 27-10.)
“They took us out of a lot of what we wanted to do,” said Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio. “They deserve the credit. They made us miss shots.”
Is this what you’ve been waiting for?
Derrick Favors’ night: Five blocked shots, nine rebounds and 11 points. Gani Lawal: 14 points, nine rebounds and a block. Once again, they sent 22 NBA scouts home happy. (Question: At this point, how much more do they need to know?)
“I’m not sure we can play much better than that,” said coach Paul Hewitt.
And how long have you been waiting for that?
Wake made only 21 of 64 from the floor. They were 3 of 18 from three-point range. (Conversely, the Jackets shot 54 percent.)
Tech held the Demon Deacons 19 points below their 77-point average. Yes, their defense has been solid all season. But look at the results in the four ACC wins: Duke (minus-19), North Carolina (minus-12), Clemson (minus-13) and Wake Forest (minus-19) were held a cumulative 63 points under their averages.
The knock on Tech in recent times has been that of an underachieving, talented team. Thursday’s game represented an opportunity to shed that reputation. After impressive conference wins over Duke, North Carolina and Clemson — all ranked teams — the Jackets lost to Florida State for the second time this season on Sunday. They had the lead and the ball down the stretch in Tallahassee. But Tech’s totals in the final 26 seconds of the game: 0-for-3 shooting, two fouls, one turnover.
“I really can’t get on these guys,” said Hewitt, whose team moved to 15-5 overall and 4-3 in the ACC. “They’ve been playing their butts off all year. Somebody asked me after the Georgia game if I got on them. I couldn’t. They played hard. The same the other day at Florida State. They left everything on the floor.”
Things started poorly against Wake. The Jackets played weak inside defense and were getting hammered on the boards. They fell behind, 17-10. When the intensity on defense picked up, so did the offense. Favors was slow to get into flow on offense, but he was a monster inside, blocking four shots in the first half (equaling his previous game-high for the season).
Tech went on 10-3 run to catch Wake at 20-all. Continuing with strong team defense and balanced scoring, it built an eight-point lead at 32-24 before settling for a halftime advantage of 35-29.
They built the lead in the second half. Wake Forest, which shot only 32.4 percent in the first half, went cold. Iman Shumpert and Brian Oliver hit three pointers. The Jackets defended and ran some more. Before long, the lead was up to 17 points at 54-37. That was it.
Hewitt laughed when asked about his rare usage of timeouts Thursday.
“Hey, what can I tell you,” he said. “We played well. Now we move on to the next one.”
Something to look forward to.