Tech came out swinging, and didn’t look back much Saturday afternoon against Wake Forest. After five straight losses in the ACC, Brian Gregory was looking to kick start the idle Tech team at home. Gregory started his season 10-2 before losing 5 straight in one of the hardest 5 game streaks in the nation. With a young team, the Jackets were walking a psychological tight rope with this 5 game loss streak. Regardless of whom it was against, the Jackets got a much-needed W on Saturday.
Tech came out stroking, getting up to a quick lead of 16-0. By that time, the Jackets were 4-6 from the 3 with Bolden, Udofia, and Carter Jr. all getting action behind the arch. Tech largest lead of the game came in the first half with a 37-7 lead. Wake Forest Coach Bzdelik commented, "If you don’t bring it, you ain’t going to find it once you get here… You have to conjure up your energy and attitude. You can’t just flip a switch. You’ve got have it from the start." And the Jackets had that energy from the start. They also impressed on defense, forcing 12 turnovers in the first half and at the end of the first half, Tech lead 52-29, with Carter Jr. recording 15 of the teams points in the first half. The Jackets shot just shy of 62% from the field, 54.5% from 3, and 80% from the charity stripe.
The second half came to a bit of a halt for the Jackets on both offense and defense. The Jackets opened play much sloppier and with less intensity than the first half. Plagued by fouls, the Jackets didn’t see as successful of play, getting outscored 33-30 in the second half. Robert Carter Jr. had a career high 20 points today against Wake Forest. While scoring was not as pretty as the first half, the Jackets still rebounded well, tying Wake with 36 total rebounds. This sloppy play can be best described by Tech’s 15 turnovers for the game. This stat is much less than during the UNC game, but still something that needs to be fixed. When the buzzer sounded, Tech recorded 54.2% shooting percentage from the field, 50% from the 3, and 61.5% from the charity stripe. Tech also held Wake to 35.1% from the field and 25% from behind the arch.
In the end, Tech won the game 82-62. This is a hopeful game for the Jackets. We didn’t play well for 40 minutes like Mfon was quoted in wanting from this game earlier this week, but the team played with intensity and desire to come away with a win. Bzdelik said, "You are going to have to play with desperate energy to be competitive in this league. This is a man’s league." Tech shot better, felt comfortable all over the court with their shooting, and found players in the low post and were able to score. They recorded 38 points in the paint, 10 on fast break, and 24 from the bench. Tech had a great distribution of scorers today, with seven players recording 8 or more points.
Coach Brian Gregory and players all seemed satisfied with the win today, walking off the court by taking a detour through the student section to hi-five the crowd. CBG commented, "In this league, until you get that first win you never know when it is going to come. It’s that difficult." Well, they can stop stressing now. The first one is under their belt. Gregory also said that, "It [was] very important for our guys to stay strong." They seemed energized and ready to hit the court today- an intensity that we haven’t seen in a while.
While this game shows improvement, much still needs to be done to be competitive in the ACC. Gregory commented, "By no means are we that much of a different team than 48 hours ago, but we are a little better." He is hopeful for the future and the development of his youth. He commemorated the Freshmen Four on their determination and desire to get better. He said, "If you put in the time, you are going to be better. Those four guys have really done a good job of that." He continued by saying, "I liked our fight and competitiveness over the past few games... We're growing up a little bit." Fans that have watch the past few games will know that the team competed with these better, more seasoned teams. They had the potential, just missed some key factors that will make them a great team instead of a good team.
As for the younger players, Robert Carter Jr. just showed Tech what he can do. He recorded another career night and lead the team to a successful game. Gregory said, "I think he is more comfortable." Good news is that when asked about his right hook that I love so much, he commented, "I've been shooting the jump hook for a long time. When it's going, it's going."
Another freshman who was a key contributor in tonight's win was Chris Bolden. If fans didn't realize, Bolden has been making an appearance in the starting line up these past few games. He has replaced Brandon Reed, who started the first 15 games for the Jackets. Bolden's ability to shoot the three and his desire to score has really aided the team. He has also had very tough match-ups on defense, having to stick with some of the leading guards in the nation. Chris said that the team "[was] search[ing] for blood the whole game. That has been our motto this week." During the press conference, Bolden also spoke of a team meeting that the Jackets had held after the NC State game in preparation for these next two games- Wake and Clemson. He said they got some things off their chest and the team seems to have grown from that. This team is becoming closer and closer. With five freshmen getting considering playing time (including Stacey in that number) it is only a matter of time before these guys get a "sixth sense" out their on the court with one another. There is so much potential for these guys.
In my opinion, the Jackets have started a new season tonight. Does that mean that they are going to go out and win all their games, No. But I do think that this first win is important to closing out games in the future. Had the Jackets won before the VT game, I think the outcome of that game would have been different. The ability to come to the end of the game and not have the stress of this game possibly being your first win is going to be quite a relief from now on. They are just going to play their game, no pressure internally or externally to get that first win.
Something that Gregory, Bolden, and Carter Jr. all said was that they are going to settle... Not just for one win. They are "out for blood" and are looking to continue this streak in these next few games.
The Jackets are set to play Clemson away on Tuesday. This will be a great road test for the young team and will be a barometer as to how energized and determined this team is. Until then, we can only speculate and dream that this team has what it takes to make a name for themselves in the ACC. Time will tell, but tonight showed me that they might be closer than we think.