For most of the evening, it looked like early December basketball: Missed jumpers, mistimed passes and long stretches of mediocrity interrupted by the occasional highlight.
Actually, if you flipped back the calendar a couple of weeks, it was the Georgia vs. Georgia Tech football game.
In the end, the Bulldogs won this one, too, 73-72 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The difference: a 3-pointer by the Dogs’ Dustin Ware that broke a tie with 18 seconds remaining, followed by a Tech team that looked again as if it lacked either a plan or an ability to execute thereafter.
Why would Glen Rice drive the lane for a layup with 6.8 seconds left rather than attempt to set up a three-pointer to tie it?
Why, with the Jackets inbounding the ball with 2.8 seconds left, would Brian Oliver attempt a low-percentage pass the length of the court to center Daniel Miller when there probably was time for a mid-court pass, a dribble and a shot? (The pass was intercepted by Travis Leslie.)
Neither team looked March-ready. Or even January-ready. But only one made plays to win the game, and it wasn’t the Jackets.
Georgia coach Mark Fox wasn’t thrilled with his team’s performance but said: “We feel like we’re leaving here with a good win.”
That’s more than Paul Hewitt could say. Of Oliver’s pass, he said: “Just a [bad] read. The next time he’s in that situation, he’ll make a good decision.”
But an impatient fan base isn’t allowing Hewitt much room for error. This was only the second time in 16 years since the Tech-Georgia game was shifted back on campus that the home team lost. Both times, the Dogs have won at Alexander. The last time: 10 years ago in Hewitt’s first season.
The masses aren’t happy on North Avenue. That’s when there are masses. It doesn’t speak well for the feeling around the program when there are 2,000 empty seats in a 9,000-seat arena.
But before the game, Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich stood up for Hewitt.
“We went to the finals of the ACC tournament last year,” Radakovich said. “We went to the second round of the NCAA tournament. That wasn’t a bad year.”
So you’re satisfied?
“You’re never satisfied unless you win it all,” he said. “But there was significant progress over the previous couple of years. I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”
He said he’s aware of the concern over the direction of the program, adding: “I’m not oblivious to it. But Paul and I talk an awful lot about where the program’s going the next couple of years, bringing in some players that we think will [not leave early]. One-and-dones aren’t bad if you understand them from the beginning. It’s the ones who leave when you don’t expect it that really put the program behind the eight ball.”
Three weeks ago the Jackets lost at Kennesaw State. That left the impression the program was under the eight ball, not behind it. (If the loss wasn’t humiliating enough, consider that the Owls are 0-5 since.)
Radakovich, with a slight smile: “Yeah, we hit a bump at Kennesaw State.”
“OK, a pothole. A crevice. An iceberg.”
It pays sometime to have a sense of humor when the barbarians are at the gate. But this end-of-game fizzle won’t help Hewitt’s cause.
The teams shot a combined 25-for-62 in the first half. Georgia at least had an excuse. Leslie sat for most of the half with two early fouls. When he returned in the second half, so did some semblance of flow to the Dogs’ offense.
They made five consecutive three-pointers in one stretch. They finally took their first lead at 48-47 on a three-point shot by Sherrard Brantley with 11:36 remaining. The Jackets fought back. Effort wasn’t the issue, execution was. But that has become a familiar sight.
– By Jeff Schultz