Stephens could be Tech’s long-range answer

At least up until Friday night, Georgia Tech forward Quinton Stephens may have been best known among Yellow Jackets fans as “the skinny guy with the mask.” At least for the time being, however, Stephens may also be recognized as “the guy who made a ton of 3-pointers against Georgia.”

In Tech’s season-opening win over the Bulldogs Friday at McCamish Pavilion, Stephens demonstrated his progress since last season and perhaps the Jackets’ increased scoring flexibility. Both will be available for inspection Tuesday night when Tech plays its second game of the season, against Alabama A&M at McCamish.

“I’m not surprised I’m able to hit them,” said Stephens, who led Tech in scoring with a career-high 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. “I just think that we move the ball well as a team. I took the shots that I had an opportunity to take.”

Stephens, from the Marist School, made his first career start after averaging 3.6 points and 12.8 minutes off the bench as a freshman last season. His improved shooting touch, honed by drills taught to him by his father Bob and by summer shooting sessions with teammate Travis Jorgenson, lifted him into the lineup. For a team that has been challenged to find a consistent outside threat in coach Brian Gregory’s first three seasons, Stephens could offer some answers, particularly given his height.

“He has shot the ball very well,” Gregory said. “And, at 6-9, he’s in a good situation because when he plays at the ‘3,’ we’re able to get him shots. He’s probably our best at moving without the ball, playing off other people’s drives, playing off post feeds and different things like that. He doesn’t have to be that open because he can shoot over a lot of guys that are guarding him.”

While 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range is a bit much to count on, Gregory has high hopes.

“If he’s ready to shoot and he keeps taking good shots, he’ll shoot in the 40’s,” Gregory said.

Suggesting Stephens can make 40 percent more of his 3-point attempts is lofty praise. Last season, of ACC players who played a full season and averaged at least one 3-pointer per game, only seven shot 40 percent or better. Stephens made 31.3 percent of his 3-point tries last season (15-for-48).

Stephens said he wants to improve on his percentage from last season, but “I don’t really want to limit myself to a number. My mom always told me that.”

Stephens has progressed in other facets, as well. His weight has not changed much – 184 pounds as a freshman to 187 – but he said he feels more explosive off the floor. He does dead-lift sets at 285 pounds where last year he did them at 200. He is broader across the chest to the point that he had to buy new clothes.

He’ll stick with the protective mask, which he has worn since the beginning of last season after breaking his nose twice last summer. He noticed that when he plays without it, he leans back.

“I don’t know why, but I guess I stick my nose into a lot of stuff,” Stephens said.

For a player endeavoring to give opponents long-range grief, perhaps protection is just as well.