Marcus Georges-Hunt was warned not to let his guard down. He still had to learn the hard way.
Sunday, Virginia guard Joe Harris toyed with the Georgia Tech freshman forward, exploiting his momentary inattention to free himself for 14 points in the first half.
“You can’t really relax when you’re guarding him because when he sees you standing straight up, he’s just going to go run off a screen and you’re going to be lost,” Georges-Hunt said. “Your concentration has to be great when you’re guarding him.”
Harris, the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, added only four points in the second half as Georges-Hunt played him more aggressively and more attentively, a big part of Tech’s come-from-behind win over the Cavaliers. Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion, freshman guard Chris Bolden will get his turn. The Yellow Jackets (12-8 overall, 2-6 ACC) play Florida State (12-9, 4-4), led by guard and 3-point sharpshooter Michael Snaer. Bolden will be one of the guards assigned to defending last year’s ACC tournament MVP.
“I’ve seen him play,” Bolden said “I think I’ve seen him hit a couple big shots.”
That would be about right. Snaer has made four game-winning 3-pointers going back to last January. He didn’t need a buzzer beater last year against Tech, dropping 21 with 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. For Tech’s three starting freshmen, forward Robert Carter, Bolden and Georges-Hunt, their initiation into the ACC has been an unyielding line of scorers. Coach Brian Gregory, who joked last spring that the trouble with freshmen is usually that “you might have to go through the entire campus to find someone those guys can guard,” gave them a passing grade for their defense.
“I think they’ve done a tremendous job,” Gregory said. “With as many minutes as they’ve played, for us to be as good defensively as we are is a testimony of their commitment to playing college-style, hard-nosed, not giving up any easy shots defense.”
Through Sunday, Tech was 22nd in the country in field-goal percentage defense at 38.1 percent. A year ago at this time, Tech was 75th at 40.7 percent.
That’s despite the slew of ACC opponents who have tried to exploit the freshmen, some successfully, such as potential NBA first-rounders like Duke forward Mason Plumlee, North Carolina forwards James Michael McAdoo and Reggie Bullock and N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie. Eight league games into the season, Tech has already faced 10 of the ACC’s top 11 scorers. Snaer is No. 12 at 13.9 points per game.
Bolden said the key is to remained locked in through the entire shot clock.
“It’s kind of one of those things where Coach (Gregory) preaches it and you kind of have to learn the hard way and go through it yourself, but that’s kind of been the story of our team right now in the ACC,” Bolden said.
To Gregory, the freshmen’s ability to defend comes from a shared desire to excel and the self-preservation instinct.
“Those guys learn pretty quick if they don’t (defend), it’s going to be lights out,” Gregory said.
Tech will try to win its second consecutive ACC game, which would be a first under Gregory. Figuring out a way to defend the Seminoles, who average 21.5 free throws per game compared to 17.2 for Tech, and stay out of foul trouble would be a place to start.
“I actually like playing defense at this level,” Georges-Hunt said. “It’s a real challenge because everybody’s physical, fast. They’re all different, though. You have to watch a lot of film to learn different pet peeves, favorite moves and stuff like that.”