Even as Georgia Tech lost its first five ACC games, players believed they were getting closer.
Coach Brian Gregory preached to the team that “it’s getting closer and closer,” forward Marcus Georges-Hunt said. “We just have to break the rock.”
The stone was pulverized with an 82-62 win over Wake Forest Saturday. Tech can now step away from the rubble. The Yellow Jackets play at Clemson Tuesday night. The Tigers have taken the last five from the Jackets.
“It felt so good to break it,” Georges-Hunt said. “I felt like Wake Forest was the game that we actually broke it and, now, we just play now.”
After a fearsome five-game stretch to open ACC play, the Jackets could be in a position to make up some ground in the league standings. Over the next six games, Tech will be at Clemson, home against Virginia, home against Florida State, at Virginia Tech, home against Clemson and at Wake Forest. Those teams’ respective RPI rankings, as of Monday on realtimerpi.com – 131, 113, 69, 150, 131 and 119. Tech, at 11-7 overall and 1-5 in the ACC, was 124th.
It presents an opportunity for the Jackets, who hung in for portions of defeats to the likes of Miami, Duke and N.C. State, to test themselves against teams closer to their caliber.
“I feel like if we get a couple wins together, people will see that we’re progressing as a team, growing and maturing as one,” Georges-Hunt said. “A win (Tuesday) would be pretty good, especially since it’s on the road.”
With a win in Littlejohn Coliseum, the Jackets would also pass a collection of milestones. Tech would win two consecutive ACC games for the first time in Gregory’s tenure and also win on the road for the first time since Gregory’s first ACC road game, against N.C. State in January 2012. The Jackets have dropped 10 league road games since. It would also be Tech’s 12th win, surpassing the team’s win total from the 2011-12 season.
Gregory downplayed the significance of a second consecutive win, saying it would be a "small window" through which to evaluate the team.
Even in the slightly larger window of six league games, though, Tech seems to be making progress. The rebounding, at least in the past three games, has improved. The Jackets’ stewardship of their possessions was better against Wake Forest than it had been against Duke and North Carolina.
Guard Mfon Udofia said that the team’s freshmen, even since the ACC opener against Miami Jan. 5, have learned “that you have to bring it every single possession and every possession counts in this league. They’re starting to recognize that and we’re doing a better job.”
Georges-Hunt’s epiphany has been that the players are faster, the game is faster and the competition is much fiercer than he had seen in the Yellow Jackets’ nonconference games.
“I learned that every player is good,” he said. “You know, people might say we have some sorry teams in the ACC, but there’s really no sorry teams at all.”
That would include the Tigers (11-8, 3-4), one of the best defensive teams in the league. In ACC games, the Tigers are third in field goal percentage defense at 39.2 percent.
Clemson beat Virginia Tech 77-70 at home Sunday after narrow road losses to N.C. State and Florida State. Tech will be playing its third game in seven days. Clemson will be playing its third in six.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re fresh because when you go on the road, your energy level is so important,” Gregory said, “and it’s important that we’re able to sustain that for 40 minutes.”