Thanks in no small part to a skinny forward who made his first career start and a transfer who returned home, Georgia Tech will have state bragging rights for a fourth consecutive year.
In the season opener for both teams, Tech bested Georgia 80-73 at McCamish Pavilion on Friday night. Tech forward Quinton Stephens scored a career-high 22 points, knocking down six 3-pointers on eight attempts, while forward Charles Mitchell dropped in 20 points with a game-high nine rebounds for the Jackets.
“We want it more,” Stephens said. “That’s what Coach (Brian Gregory) really emphasizes to us. We go out there, there’s no doubt who played the hardest, there’s no doubt who wants it more.”
The last time a Tech player made six 3-pointers was Iman Shumpert in the 2010-11 season.
Friday night’s game was the earliest meeting in a season between the rivals, because of the teams’ inability to find a common open date in the non-conference portion of the schedule that wouldn’t conflict with finals or holidays and also take place while students were on campus. But the fever pitch that welcomed Mitchell to McCamish informed him that, despite it being the first game of the season, it carried plenty of meaning.
“I really didn’t know the emotion or the rivalry (between) UGA and Georgia Tech until I stepped on the court and saw the emotion of the fans,” Mitchell said. “So I knew right then this was an important game. So it was a great time.”
Mitchell, a Wheeler High grad who transferred to Tech over the summer from Maryland to be closer to his ailing grandmother, helped the Jackets get off to a fast start, leading by as many as 16 in the first half, and then helped Tech close.
Georgia, shooting 55.6 percent in the second half, made a number of surges to cut into Tech’s lead, but was repeatedly thwarted. Mitchell took a turn about one quarter of the way through the second half, scoring on a free throw, off a post move and on a fast-break dunk after a Marcus Georges-Hunt steal of Georgia forward Marcus Thornton to return the lead to 54-46 after an 8-0 Georgia run had cut the lead to 49-44.
Georgia fell behind by as many as 16 points in the first half, playing unsettled. The Bulldogs played most of the game without star guard Kenny Gaines, who had practiced sparingly in the preseason because of a bout with mononucleosis. Gaines scored two points in the first half in seven minutes and finished with 11.
In the first half, Georgia attempted almost half of its field-goal tries (16 of 35) from beyond the 3-point arc.
“It was a long time to really calm down,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Give Tech credit. Their defense was good. They’ve got a good team. But it just took us a long time, really all the way till halftime, before we could calm down and get the ball inside and make some plays.”
Georgia was led by forward Nemanja Djurisic, who finished with 18 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
“I’m not going to panic because we lost the game,” Fox said. “We got outplayed. We’ve got to get better at certain things.”
Tech (1-0) had not beaten Georgia (0-1) four games in a row since the Jackets swept the Bulldogs in the 1963 and 1964 seasons, their final seasons in the SEC.
“For the year, we get to say whatever we want, I guess,” said Gregory, now 4-0 against the Bulldogs.
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