Milwaukee – Talent had something to do with it, but it wasn’t just talent this time. It was talent applied, talent backed with planning and purpose. It was talent plus tenacity, and added together it means Georgia Tech will play Sunday.
The Jackets outfought and outthought Oklahoma State down the stretch, and even if it lacked in artistry, it brimmed with heart. There’s was nothing pretty about this, nothing except the final score and the date in Sunday’s Round of 32.
In the end, it was all D. Iman Shumpert stole the ball from James Anderson, and then Derrick Favors forced another Anderson turnover, and that was it. Tech held its nerve and made its foul shots, and the Institute banked its first NCAA tournament victory since 2005.
The first half was strange. Anderson, the Big 12 player of the year, scored only seven points and sat the final 6 1/2 minutes after incurring his second foul. You would think the Cowboys might have buckled. Instead they fashioned a turnover-fed run that gave them a seven-point lead.
The halftime spread was five points and made little sense. Tech had outrebounded OSU 17-9, made only seven turnovers — that’s boffo by Jackets standards — and sank all eight of its free throws. Yet the Jackets were behind, and we could see why in the stats.
Shumpert had taken six shots, making one. (The one was off an alley-oop behind the Cowboys zone.) Favors had taken three shots, making all three. Gani Lawal had taken seven shots but had missed four layups. Tech wasn’t getting the ball inside enough, and when it did it wasn’t always converting.
There had been nothing wrong with the game plan. Tech fed the post on its first three possessions and seized a 6-0 lead. But then the Cowboys settled down and started making deflections and playing to their strength, meaning speed. And the fast-break points were all Oklahoma State, literally: It had nine to Tech’s zero.
The biggest Okie was the smallest: Keiton Page, all 5-foot-9 of him, scored 10 first-half-points and made two steals. It appeared comical, this little guy trying to hang with Tech’s massive-by-comparison guards, but Page had an aggregate impact. He kept pestering the Jackets and wound up frazzling them.
Say this for Shumpert, though: He had started on Anderson and had rendered him inefficient. The guy known as Big Game James had taken six first-half shots, making two. His baskets were layups. Again, nothing wrong the game plan. Or, in this instance, the execution.
The Jackets began the second half more composed. They got the ball inside again and drew even, then in front. They were defending well enough — State had made only three treys in 27 minutes — and were again protecting the ball.
And the Cowboys, who subsist on treys, still weren’t hitting. Credit the Jackets’ defense for making the wrong men shoot, and deduct points (again, literally) from OSU for not hitting when they were open. If anything, the Cowboys’ offense had become inside-oriented — reserve Marshall Moses was scoring 14 points. But if OSU isn’t scoring from the perimeter it isn’t really OSU.
And in the end OSU was O-for-the-Big-Dance. Tech is 1-for-1 and will try again Sunday. And if it holds together then the way it did this night, it could be headed to St. Louis.