Jackets, Sampson too much for Appalachian State

Credit: Streeter Lecka

Credit: Streeter Lecka

Georgia Tech did the best thing it could possibly do Monday night against Appalachian State — not lose.

Nine days after the Yellow Jackets’ loss to USC-Upstate and in a season where mid-major upsets have flourished, Tech pushed past the Mountaineers 70-57 at McCamish Pavilion.

“I thought we moved the ball well, shared the ball well,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We attacked any time that they pressured. We did some good things on that and our pace was better. We can still get a lot better and we’re going to have to.”

Forward Robert Sampson gave the Jackets an huge lift off the bench, providing a spark in the first half and navigating them through an Appalachian State charge early in the game to help secure the win.

“He’s valuable,” Gregory said. “Very, very valuable for us.”

Coming out of their final exam period, the Jackets were not at their sharpest. Tech (7-2) made 2 of 15 3-point tries, but subdued Appalachian State (3-4) with a 35-26 rebounding edge and by shooting 29 free throws to the visitors’ eight, all of those taken in the final 13:26.

This was a game that Tech was counting on. Appalachian State was 5-21 last season and ranked No. 335 in RPI out of 349 teams, even though the Mountaineers defeated Virginia Tech on Nov. 22.

Sampson, playing his senior season for the Jackets after transferring from East Carolina following his junior year, gave the Jackets an early spark with a variety of contributions. Coming in at 15:48 with the Mountaineers up 11-6, Sampson blocked a shot, drew a blocking foul and put down an emphatic put-back dunk off a missed 3-pointer by Chris Bolden to give the Jackets a 13-11 lead with 11:58 left in the half. Appalachian State never led again.

Sampson continued the strong run, bringing the ball upcourt on the next possession and feeding center Demarco Cox for a basket, collecting a rebound on the ensuing possession, keeping Tech’s next possession alive by going to the floor for an offensive rebound and then drawing a foul on defense on the Mountaineers’ possession after that.

“I think he’s starting to get comfortable and knows that he’s going to play and we need him,” Gregory said.

He was so integral that when he drew his third foul with 16:36 to go and the score 40-29 in the Jackets’ favor, coach Brian Gregory chose to keep him in and risk a fourth foul for the next 3 1/2 minutes. Over that span, Sampson added a dunk, rebound and assist, leaving with the lead 51-38.

“If I get in, it doesn’t matter if I’m on the bench or if I’m starting,” Sampson said. “I try to do everything I put forth in a game. I take pride in rebounding, take pride in scoring, take pride in defense. Just take pride in everything I do.”

He finished with 10 points, a team-high eight rebounds and three assists, tied for the team high. The Jackets outscored Appalachian State by 26 points when he was on the floor. Forward Marcus Georges-Hunt led Tech with 15 points.

Georges-Hunt was particularly assertive in the final 6:30 of the first half. With Tech leading 20-19, Georges-Hunt scored 11 of the Jackets’ 15 final points of the half, including 5-for-6 from the free-throw line. The Jackets went into halftime ahead 36-25. Gregory has been prodding Georges-Hunt to play a more attacking style.

“As Coach is always telling me, Stay on the attack,” he said, “knowing that a lot of defenses are keying in on me to be as aggressive as possible, and that’ll open up a lot for my teammates.”

Appalachian State guard Chris Burgess also shared scoring honors with 15 points.

Tech heads into a rigorous final three-game stretch of the nonconference: vs. Vanderbilt Saturday, at Dayton Dec. 23 and Charlotte Dec. 30.