Coming into this game, all the talk was about Florida State's fantastic freshmen, but this game ended up being all about Georgia Tech's seniors. Marcus Georges-Hunt and Adam Smith lit it up from all over the court and the big men dominated the boards on both sides of the court. Georgia Tech took an early lead and kept slowly building their lead. They dominated through the first three quarters of the game peaking at a 17 point lead. Late in the game, things started to turn. The Seminoles who had been struggling offensively found themselves getting to the rim and making shots that weren't falling earlier. The red hot Jackets cooled down and let Florida State back into the game. The Seminoles eventually cut it to 2 points with 30 seconds remaining. Some clutch free throws from Georges-Hunt and Adam Smith as well as a nice block from James White sealed it.
Offensively, this was one of the best games the Jackets played all year. Marcus Georges-Hunt had trouble in the first half finding room to work, but found a way to get to the line and got very hot in the second half. Adam Smith missed a couple open threes, but was much more effective inside the arc than usual, and both players were solid on free throws. MGH ended up with 27 points on just 6-10 shooting and 12-16 from the free throw line, while Smith ended up with 24 points on 7-15 shooting. Stephens joined in from the perimeter with 11 points on 4-8 shooting. It wasn't only the perimeter players who got in on the action. None of the big men went off on offense, but they went for 22 points on an incredible 11-14 shooting combined. Tadric Jackson did not have a great game, but still ended with a team-leading 4 assists and Travis Jorgenson did a solid job of combating the press. Josh Heath for the first time all season did not play. Perhaps he had a minor injury, or perhaps Gregory favored Jorgenson's ball-handling skills against the pressure, but it was odd to see Heath on the bench the whole game.
I've talked about this as a key all season for the Jackets, but offensive rebounding was the difference in this game. The Jackets grabbed up 12 offensive boards, which doesn't seem that great except the Noles only got 17 defensive rebounds and that included a couple missed free throws the Jackets did not even contest. On top of that, Charles Mitchell got fouled three times going for the offensive rebound THREE TIMES in the first half alone. Everybody was getting in on the action and it seriously demoralized FSU. In one particularly notable stretch with 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Jackets had one possession last nearly 2 full minutes due to offensive rebounding, including a fantastic hustle play by Adam Smith to keep the ball on the Jackets end of the court. Offensive rebounding has been a strength for the Jackets all season and it showed yesterday.
A lot has been said about FSU's freshmen duo of Bacon and Beasley, but they struggled yesterday. They ended up with 19 points on 6-20 shooting combined, and got most of that at the end of the game. Instead it was the less heralded freshman Terance Mann who led the team with 18 points as well as the sharpshooter Devon Bookert who scored 15. Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Boris Bojanovsky chipped in 12 and 10 points respectively, but were less integral to the offense than Mann and Bookert.
Just a warning, but I'm going to be ending this article with two mini-rants. First, I want to talk about nearly letting the huge lead get away. This has been a theme over the last two seasons and has cost this team many wins. The problem this game wasn't getting away from the offense, it was the defense falling apart. They had played solid defense all game, but then seemed like they had no idea what they were doing at the end. Yes, the Seminoles started hitting tough shots at the end, but they had several possessions where they got to the rim with almost no time coming off the clock. This team has to keep it's cool defensively when it comes down to the wire. They really needed to just slow the Seminoles down, not even stop them, and they failed to do that. The senior leaders need to calm this team down at the end, it really seems like they get too tense.
Secondly, the NCAA has to do something about this fouling at the end of games. The Seminoles started fouling with more than THREE MINUTES on the clock. The ending nearly ruined the game for me, not because the Jackets almost lost, but because I ended watching 20 minutes of free throws and time-outs. This is a hot topic in basketball, and I expect to see some changes in the next two years. I know I've mentioned it before, but I'd love to see a rule that the third foul in a minute is two free throws and the ball. I'm guessing that the NCAA is going to make minor changes like allowing teams to choose to inbound the ball instead of shoot, and making off the ball fouls intentional late in the game. I hope they don't use half measures but that's what I'm expecting.
Back to the Jackets, they have now won two of their last three. They look to make it 3 out of 4 on Saturday at 8 pm against #19 Notre Dame. That game is at McCamish Pavilion but is also on ESPN2 for all you out-of-towners.