Wow. What a turnaround from the previous two games. The Yellow Jackets came to play tonight and had easily their best game this season resulting in a huge victory over Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs came in solidly favored on the road today. They came in 6-0 while dominating in basically all of their games including victories over Arizona State, Washington State, and Northwestern. But GT was the better team from tip-off to buzzer.
The Yellow Jackets took a small lead early and just kept slowly extending the lead throughout the entire first half, ending the half with a Kyle Sturdivant steal and fast break layup at the buzzer to go up 39-26. This lead held for almost the entire second half. Mississippi State made a bit of a late run getting it down to a 58-50 lead. But then they couldn’t get any closer and the late free throws pushed the GT lead back up. Every time that it seemed like the Bulldogs were about to get back into it, they would miss a 3-pointer or turn it over or GT would get an easy basket off of an offensive rebound. Probably the moment that best showed this was when GT was inbounding near the half court line with 1 second on the shot clock. They just chucked it up to the basket and a Mississippi State player caught it, but lost his balance and threw the ball away where it bounced right to a GT player for a wide open dunk.
This game saw the GT defense play much better than they have been. They were making good rotations, staying in front of their man, getting their hands into passing lanes, and especially crashing the boards. There were a lot of loose balls and tipped rebounds in this game and GT came away with more than their fair share. They held Mississippi State to just 30.8% from the field.
The offense had a real challenge going up against an extremely stout MSU defense. And (at least in the first half) they stepped it up. Naithan George came in as the starting point guard and he was fantastic. He made great decisions on offense and repeatedly got to the basket. I am so excited about him after this game. In other good news Miles Kelly is back (well mostly). He has been struggling to find his shot, but he was 4-9 from deep today (including a few really big shots) and 8-10 from the free throw line. Keep it up.
The front court of GT struggled a bit in this game. They made some tough plays on defense and got into foul trouble, but they actually held the Bulldog’s big men in check. Offensively they didn’t do much. Ebenezer Dowuona and Baye Ndongo started at the 5 and 4. Dowuona held his own inside on defense and will probably play a lot when we play very physical big men. Ndongo was all over the place on both offense and defense. He racked up rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, but was only 1-7 from the field. Tyzhaun Claude came off the bench and struggled a lot picking up fouls almost right away. Ibrahima Sacko and Kowacie Reeves were both tasked with helping against the big men when rotations demanded it and Reeves in particular did a good job. He is long and athletic and aggressive on defense.
This win salvages hope for this season. This is in the midst of a tough stretch of games and should give the team confidence as we head into a home game against Duke on Saturday and a trip to Athens to face the Bulldogs next Tuesday. Coming out with one win between those two games would be huge for this team.