Previewing Georgia Tech’s ACC tournament game against Clemson at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network in the ACC footprint (listings here) and ESPN 2 outside of it.
Tech coach Brian Gregory wasn’t ready to divulge the game plan Tuesday (Gregory: “I can’t give you my game plan”) but he did allow that “multiple players” will take turns guarding Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame, the first-team All-ACC matchup problem.
Too quick for post players and too big for perimeter players, Blossomgame averaged 18.6 points per game this season. He scored 17 and 22 against Tech. The second game turned in the Jackets’ favor, though, when Gregory switched Marcus Georges-Hunt onto Blossomgame for the second half. After halftime, Blossomgame shot2-for-8 and scored five points, and the Jackets rallied from 13 points down to win.
By the sounds of it, Georges-Hunt won’t match up with Blossomgame for the whole game, but the impact that both players – friends from their days as teammates on the Georgia Stars AAU team – have on the game will be intriguing to watch.
“Whatever he does, it’s not surprise,” Georges-Hunt said of Blossomgame, from Alpharetta and Chattahoochee High. “He’s a high-level athlete. He gets the job done.”
(The Stars’ imprint is all over this tournament. Other ACC alumni include Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, named the ACC player of the year and defensive player of the year, and Florida State’s Malik Beasley, named to the league’s all-freshman team.)
Clemson is plenty wary of Georges-Hunt, who played one of the best games of his career in the Feb. 23 win at McCamish Pavilion – 25 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the field, 8-for-9 from the line, five rebounds, four assists and the game-winning free throws in 39 minutes of play.
“He’s a hard matchup,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell told reporters earlier this week. “We have smaller guards and they’ve taken one of their smaller guards out of the lineup. They’re playing him at the point now. We’ve got to figure out ways to counteract that.”
Blossomgame has his own plans for Georges-Hunt.
“I think this time, I’ll be a little bit more aggressive on offense, just to make him tired, make him guard more so he won’t be as effective on offense,” he said.
The two know each other well and have a mutual respect.
“He’s going to make shots,” Georges-Hunt said. “You just have to play him honest.”
Georges-Hunt’s final words on the scouting report.
“I think he likes Katy Perry,” he said.
Something of an undercard to Blossomgame/Georges-Hunt are two players who could end up having a difference-making impact on the game, although they likely won’t be guarding each other much – Tech forward Quinton Stephens and Clemson guard Jordan Roper.
Both are dangerous – Roper hit up Minnesota for 25 points, Florida State for 23 and Miami for 18, the latter two wins for the Tigers. Likewise, although perhaps not to the same degree, Stephens zapped Virginia for 16 and Florida State and Notre Dame for 11 each, all big wins for the Jackets.
Roper averages 8.8 points per game and has 117 and 40 steals, both team highs. Stephens averages 5.1 points and averages 3.6 rebounds. But both have had a tendency to be hit-and-miss, and Roper has actually not contributed much since a 15-point game against Tech in the teams’ first meeting. He had a total of 11 points in the final five regular-season games. Stephens has finished well since moving into the starting lineup, averaging 7.1 points and 5.6 rebounds in the final seven games.
“He has been an x-factor,” Gregory said of Roper. “He gives them that third perimeter scorer and he’s very similar in some ways to Quinton for us. Obviously, he’s a point of emphasis because during his career he’s hurt us, so we’re always paying special attention to him.”
This will be the team’s third meeting in 26 days, after meetings Feb. 13 in Greenville, S.C., and Feb. 23 at McCamish. Being permanent partners, the coaches and teams know each other well.
With two days of practice time, it didn’t sound like the Jackets planned to present the Tigers with a vastly different game plan.
“You can tweak here and there,” Gregory said. “It becomes, here’s what we did well, what can they do to take away? Here’s what they hurt us on, what can we do to take it away?”
One area Tech delved into was its ball-screen coverage, which Clemson shredded in the first half of the second game, when the Tigers shot 52.9 percent from the field and took a 44-35 halftime lead. After the game, Gregory acknowledged that “we had no answers for them whatsoever” until making change at halftime.
Tech did a much better job on the defensive glass in that game, reducing Clemson’s offensive rebounds from 15 to seven. Clemson did the same, however, cutting Tech’s offensive rebounds from 14 to six.
“Do I feel really good about how we’re playing right now? Yeah, I do. And we’ve been able to come up with plays to win games and different things like that, but you have to keep doing it.” – Gregory
Forward Nick Jacobs shared an insight into his team’s strong finish – the willingness to accept roles. Jacobs acknowledged the frustration of sometimes not getting as many touches as he’d like, particularly when it’s often dependent upon perimeter players to feed him in the post. A particular example was the Miami game, when the post players went from the 5:24 mark of the first half to the 3:23 mark of the second half without a basket and the four post players (Charles Mitchell, James White, Ben Lammers and Jacobs) took a combined 16 shots.
Jacobs said he had to realize that guards aren’t necessarily not sharing the ball, but perhaps are just running the play called, and that he can’t always rely on them to get him the ball in the post.
“At the same time, you’ve got to play together as a team and, at the end of the day, we’ve all got one mission, to win,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”
He said that, in the past eight games, six of them wins, the Jackets have gotten a better handle on their roles and buying into them. In the final five games, Jacobs had two of his three double-figure rebounding games.