ATHENS – There’s a good team in there somewhere. Maybe it’ll show itself Saturday when Duke comes to Atlanta. It needs to show up soon. We’re into January now, and Georgia Tech still acts as if it’s just another collegiate aggregation. It could, and should, be much more.
“This team still has a pretty high ceiling,” Paul Hewitt said Tuesday night. He said this moments after his tall and talented team had run face-first into a closing door.
The Jackets came to Stegeman Coliseum to play a game not many folks watched — another Tech team was busy elsewhere — and for that Hewitt can be grateful. Tech fans, as we know, have seen it all before. But here, for late tuners-in, is a recap:
Once again the Jackets allowed a lesser opponent to dictate tempo. Once again Tech seemed determined to match every basket with a turnover. Once again it lost.
Yes, yes. We must credit Georgia at the same time we castigate Tech. The Bulldogs have one player (Trey Thompkins) who would make the Jackets’ 10-man rotation. Mark Fox is doing brilliant things with this undermanned team. And Hewitt … well, he’s not looking so brilliant.
Three days ago Georgia lost to Missouri by 28 points. On Tuesday it beat Tech and was the better team throughout. You kept waiting, as is always the case with the Jackets, for talent to have its way, but talent, as is often the case with these Jackets, meant little without direction.
Tech’s best play was an offensive rebound — it had 19 of those and 18 second-chance points. It didn’t make a trey until the game’s 33rd minute. Its famous freshman Derrick Favors finished with more turnovers (five) and fouls (four) than baskets (three). I hate to keep harping on coaching — really I do — but if you’re ranked 20th in the land and you can’t handle the team picked to finish last in the SEC East, what does that say about the man at the top?
It wasn’t as if the Stegasaurus took on the charged ambience of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The place was barely half-full. But Tech allowed Georgia to become the aggressor early, managing but 12 points in the first 11 minutes. You can’t do that on the road. You have to hit the other guy harder sooner. Tech did nothing but counterpunch.
The Jackets finished with 66 points. With their size and speed, they should be playing games in the 80s. But they don’t know how to press the issue without throwing the ball away. (They finished with 20 turnovers against 23 baskets and eight assists.) They’re young on the perimeter, sure. But they act even younger.
In the end it came down to Georgia making the assertive plays and the Jackets being unable to guard Ricky McPhee, who’s listed as 6-foot-1. When in doubt, the Bulldogs put the ball on the floor and made something happen in the lane. Thompkins drove for a huge hoop at the shot-clock horn, and McPhee, of all people, shook free down the lane for an underhand banker to clinch it.
Tech, by way of contrast, did its stand-around thing. When it got the ball low to Gani Lawal, it was OK. (He had 21 of the Jackets’ 66 points.) When it couldn’t, it was at sea. And that, sad to say, is the impression Tech has left after 14 games. It has won 11 times, but when put to the test by Florida State and now Georgia it failed. FSU is a decent-enough team. Georgia still has miles to go before it can lay claim to decency.
But say this for the Bulldogs: They know who they are and how they have to play, and they keep doing it. “We have limitations,” Fox said, “but we know what they are.” Contrast this with Tech, which has assets almost everywhere but doesn’t seem to know where to turn.