There hasn’t been much in the way of emotional real estate for Georgia Tech to lay claim to over Georgia lately.
The somewhat diametric fortunes of the school’s respective football teams and the fact Tech’s former athletic director grew weary of squeezing nickels and bolted for Clemson sums it up nicely.
So consider Tuesday some semblance of a 180. Or at least the beginning of one. Georgia Tech beat Georgia 62-54 in a basketball game at McCamish Pavilion. There is joy in Beeville.
The Yellow Jackets are 5-2 in non-conference play. It’s a bit early to start hyperventilating and tossing out labels like “ACC threat” or “NCAA dark horse.”
But forgive Tech if it milks this just a little bit. It finally has a chance to gloat. The team’s new arena is a jewel. It was sold out Tuesday night. It was loud. The Big Foot rival fell for the second straight year, the first time the Jackets have won consecutive games over Georgia in 18 years. Both came with new coach Brian Gregory in charge.
“When you get a good win against your rival, you can at least have a measurement of where you’re at,” Gregory said.
There are two important gauges, actually: 1) Tech and Georgia (2-6) appear to be heading into opposite directions; 2) The Jackets aren’t remotely the same outfit they were a year ago, when they lived a vagabond existence, splitting home games between two arenas (neither really home) and played with a depleted roster and before a depressed (or non-existent) fan base.
This season, Gregory said, “is a different stratosphere. Everything is different. Practices are better. They perform on a daily basis. There’s better chemistry on the team, better leadership.”
Tech went 11-20 last season, going only 4-12 in the ACC.
It was a strain even for a perpetually happy, peppy guy like Gregory.
“I knew what I was getting into,” he said. “I won’t lie. Sometimes you have got to kick yourself to get going. But I also saw a lot of guys who would be returning and would try to get done the things we wanted. We had [recruits] sign early before we even got started, guys who said yes to Georgia Tech and yes to me and my staff before we had proven anything to them.
“Those guys didn’t know Brian Gregory from a man on the moon. They didn’t even know where Dayton was.”
Gregory stepped into a mess. But then, rarely do jobs open up for good reasons. Former Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich felt the program had declined so significantly and that fan apathy was so overwhelming that he was willing to sign off on the school paying former coach Paul Hewitt $7.2 million to just go away.
Hewitt’s buyout prevented Tech from paying full retail for a new coach, which at least partly led to hiring Gregory. He was considered solid, even if unspectacular, in eight seasons at Dayton: 172-94 record, including an NIT championship and two NCAA tournament berths (but only one NCAA tournament win).
But nobody can find fault with the way things are going now.
The Jackets already have beaten Saint Mary’s, an NCAA tournament team from last season. They led Georgia by as many as 15 points (39-24) early in the second half, started to transition into full meltdown mode as the lead shrunk to five (55-50) in the final minutes, but then got some key offensive rebounds and a drive-and-one by senior guard Mfon Udofia.
“He’s a key to their team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said of Udofia. “They’re an improved team. But he’s a difference maker for them.”
They’re going in the right direction.
By Jeff Schultz