Georgia Tech pulls out the stops
MILWAUKEE – Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt pounded his fist and let out a scream that seemed to come from his soul.
Just minutes into Friday’s matchup against Oklahoma State, Hewitt was livid. His team’s cavalier effort defensively had him hot.
D’Andre Bell paid the price for not hustling after a loose ball, earning a seat on the bench.
“You gotta get to that,” Hewitt yelled as Bell passed sheepishly.
“Get it, get it, get it,” Hewitt barked, imploring his team to press on the next possession.
From that point on, the Yellow Jackets gave their coach something worth shouting about.
They responded with a stellar defensive effort, particularly against Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson, and came away with a 64-59 victory over the Cowboys in a Midwest Regional first-round game at the Bradley Center.
Tenth-seeded Georgia Tech limited Anderson to 3-of-12 shooting from the field and 11 points (11.6 below his season average). No one was more important than Iman Shumpert, who drew the assignment of slowing one of the nation’s top scorers.
“When we found out we were playing Oklahoma State and he was their best player, I wanted to guard him,” said Shumpert, a sophomore. “I had to watch a lot of film just to get a feel for what he would try to do and to try and take it away from him. I tried to make him as uncomfortable as possible.”
Anderson wasn’t the only one in the arena feeling less than relaxed. The Jackets didn’t score a field goal for the final 8:19, but they seized the win with a nearly flawless effort from the free-throw line. They made 24-of-25 foul shots to salt things away and earn a date against second-seeded Ohio State on Sunday.
Georgia Tech’s dynamic frontcourt duo – freshman Derrick Favors and junior Gani Lawal – was a combined 6-of-6 from the stripe. Favors finished with 12 points and nine rebounds; Lawal had 14 points and six boards.
Shumpert also made the most of his time at foul line, going 7-of-8 and finishing with nine points.
How has a team that made good on just 64.5 percent of its free throws during the season suddenly become so deadly?
“Just practice, practice, practice,” Lawal said. “They were falling tonight. We’ve had some tough nights this year, but we had a good night tonight. We’re going to keep practicing doing what we’re doing and hopefully they keep going in like this.”
By glancing at the boxscore, you might not glean just how good Georgia Tech’s defense was. Oklahoma State shot 50 percent for the game and point guard Keiton Page knocked down three 3-pointers, two that staked the Cowboys to an early lead. Taking away Oklahoma State’s perimeter game in the second half was the key. The Cowboys made good on just 27.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
“I thought our guys were tremendous defensively taking them out of some of their pet plays,” Hewitt said. “And after playing against a guy like Anderson, who is clearly one of the top five players in the country, I thought we stayed really disciplined defensively. Didn’t foul too much, contested shots and played a really solid basketball game against a very good team.”
Tech, one of the country’s most underachieving teams during the regular season, seems to have found its form – at least on the defensive end – over the past month. The Yellow Jackets’ run in the ACC tournament – where they knocked off North Carolina, Maryland and North Carolina State – rescued them from a 7-9 conference mark. Once on the precipice of not making the Big Dance, the Jackets now are on the edge of the Sweet 16.
They’re still playing because Hewitt has them focused on the fundamentals.
“The thing I try to make sure they understand is these opportunities are fleeting and don’t allow this opportunity to go by and then realize five, 10 years from now, ‘Boy, we had a really good team and we didn’t capitalize on it,’ ” Hewitt said. “There were times this year where I wasn’t sure if they quite understood that.
“But as the year went on, you could see them really stepping it up, and mentally we’re really locking in.”
They’ll need laser focus to have any chance against Ohio State, and a more prolific effort on offense. Lawal and Favors failed to finish some scoring opportunities Friday. They need to go the glass with two hands at all times and take the ball to the basket with abandon instead of looking for the highlight-reel dunk or the alley-oop pass.
Another huge defensive challenge awaits as well. Shumpert will try to check National Player of the Year candidate Evan Turner.
“I was a defensive stopper in high school,” Shumpert said. “Evan is another tough assignment. Whatever I have to do.”
Hewitt and Co. have a day to map out a plan.
Back to basics worked pretty well this time.