In their last non-conference regular season game of the season, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-3) defeated the Charlotte 49ers (6-6) 67-66 in a thriller to cap off 2014 on a strong note.
"All you have to do is look at Charlotte and who they've played, and that's maybe the best 6-6 team right now not only in the country but for a long time," Head Coach Brian Gregory said about the 49ers. "They're really good. I think they have a chance to have an excellent year."
Charlotte's record may not reflect it, but they are a very talented team that has played right with some strong opponents like Miami, Davidson, and Georgetown early in the season. Their offense can fill it up, and Tech's defensive performance on Tuesday night was actually very respectable.
The Jackets have had their fair share of ups and downs during the non-conference schedule, but a win against a quality opponent like Charlotte should give Tech some momentum going forward against a very tough conference schedule in 2015.
"I'm very proud of our guys because we needed to show some heart and some character and some toughness there in the end, and we made some crucial plays," said Gregory.
The first half saw two struggling offenses trying to grind out points in their half-court sets. The two teams combined for just 37 percent shooting from the field including 2-18 from beyond the arc and just three total free throw attempts. The Jackets worked hard down low to grab 21 rebounds (eight offensive) and used that advantage along with a 10-0 run midway through the first half to build a 28-20 lead at the half.
The second half was a completely different story that saw Charlotte come exploding out of the gate to tie the game at 34.
"They went to a smaller lineup," Gregory said about Charlotte's second-half run. "They took advantage of some match-ups. We didn't do a good job during one stretch on the switches when they posted us up, and now we have a guard guarding a post. We didn't do a good enough job of fighting that, and that's something that we need to work on."
Charlotte finished the half shooting 57 percent to score an impressive 46 points. It was nearly enough to finish the comeback, but Marcus Georges-Hunt and the Jackets held on with a solid second half of scoring of their own. Tech finished the half shooting 45 percent including 12-13 from the line, which is very promising to see going into conference play.
Georges-Hunt was spectacular throughout the night for the Jackets, and his scoring in the second half single-handedly kept Tech in the game.
"Just being more aggressive, more assertive," said Georges-Hunt about his play down the stretch. "That's what coach asks of me, to lead and do all the little things and lead by example.
He was aggressive at getting to the paint and using his plus size to beat the 49ers. He was 9-16 from the field with almost all of those coming from inside. He also went 7-7 from the line to finish with 25 points and seven rebounds. His game winning layup with 1.9 seconds left was a hard drive from the left wing that he finished with contact to put the Jackets on top.
Travis Jorgensen was the other player of the game for Tech in my opinion. He ran the point for the majority of the game for the Jackets and looked as solid as he has all season running the offense. He only scored five points, but it included a huge three-pointer late in the game that kept the Jackets within striking distance. His five assists combined with one turnover shows his efficiency that was much needed at the point guard position.
Rebounding was once again a huge key for Tech's success. They outrebounded the 49ers 35-26 including a 15-11 edge on the offensive glass that led to 17 second-chance points. That has seemed to be the trend throughout the first part of the season, and it will be interesting to see if Charles Mitchell and company can continue to dominate the boards against more size when facing ACC competition. If they can, it will be a bonus for the Jackets that could lead to more success than we've seen in the past few seasons.
"We're 9-3, and we've played a pretty darn good schedule," said Gregory. "We're a much better team than we were on opening night; we've gotten better. We need to continue to improve, and we've shown a lot of heart and character in these first 12 games."
The Jackets will begin ACC competition on Saturday, January 3rd when they travel to South Bend, Indiana to take on the 14th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-1).