Damon Stoudamire looking for Yellow Jackets to be tougher

Tyzhaun Claude battles Howard's Bryce Harris during Thursday's game.

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Tyzhaun Claude battles Howard's Bryce Harris during Thursday's game.

Thirty years ago, in Salt Lake City, Damon Stoudamire took the floor with his Arizona teammates with thoughts and hopes of winning a national championship.

The Wildcats had won 24 games, captured the Pacific-10 Conference championship and were the No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. It all came crashing down in 40 minutes later in a loss Stoudamire can’t forget even if he wanted to.

“I was a 2 seed and lost to a 15 seed. I see it every year. I can’t forget it. Every year, every March Madness they show that,” he said. “And I missed the shot to tie the game. So I see that every year.”

Arizona lost to Santa Clara that day in Utah. Steve Nash, a freshman at the time who would go on to have an impressive NBA career, had helped put the Broncos in position to win. Nash and 15th-seeded Santa Clara led 64-61 with less than six seconds to play and watched as Stoudamire grabbed a rebound off a missed free throw, raced to the other end of the court and threw up a prayer of a 3-pointer from the left side as the clock expired.

At the time, Arizona had become just the second ever No. 2 seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Stoudamire brought up this forgettable night of his own personal basketball history because he sensed his Georgia Tech Tech Yellow Jackets maybe hadn’t taken Howard as seriously as they should have Thursday in an 88-85 win. The Bison outplayed Tech for much of the night before the Jackets, led by guard Miles Kelly’s 27 points, surged ahead late.

Tech’s game against Howard wasn’t on the same stage or didn’t have the same stakes as the postseason matchup Stoudamire recalled, but the lessons were the same.

“At the end day, Howard, those guys put on their shorts the same way, they put on their jerseys the same way,” Stoudamire said. “You gotta respect them. And just because we’re here at Tech and they’re there doesn’t mean they can’t play. So that’s what I mean. We gotta respect the game.”

Tech (2-0) trailed Howard by 14 in the second half of Thursday’s win. Stoudamire said his team can’t consistently afford to fall behind by such margins against good teams.

The former Pacific coach and NBA star also said he wants to see more toughness out of his team, a word he thinks is overused at times, but a facet of his current team that needs to be further developed.

“There’s a mental toughness and a physical toughness for sure, but the mental toughness to me is more important,” Stoudamire said. “So when I say toughness I’m talking about the mental toughness, the mental aspect of the game, it’s the attentional to detail, it’s listening to the coaches, understanding that what he’s saying, quite frankly, is not bull(expletive).”

The Jackets will have a similar challenge at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against a program likely few outside of the Massachusetts know about.

UMass-Lowell (2-0) comes to McCamish Pavilion with wins over Rivier, a Division III program, and Dartmouth. Ayinde Hikim is scoring 20 points per game and Abdoul Karim is scoring 12.5 points per contest. Cam Morris came off the bench in the first two games to average 14 points.

The River Hawks made the transition from Division II to Division I in 2013 and had a 26-8 season last year, their best ever record at the D-I level. Tech paid UMass-Lowell $120,000 to play Tuesday’s game.

The Jackets will be looking to go 3-0 for the second time in as many seasons, but more so than anything, Stoudamire will be looking to see if his team brings a little more of that toughness to the table.

“My thing is that you gotta respect the game and you gotta honor the game and you gotta come to practice and you gotta work hard because if you work hard in practice it prepares you for the game,” the first-year Tech coach said. “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes good habits and good habits carry you through. That’s a part of mental toughness. That’s the toughness part of it. Those are things that have to be created. If we’re in practice and you’re running from contact when you get in the game you’re not gonna like contact. That’s just what it is.

“We got a collective toughness, we just need a little bit more. I want a little bit more. I need everybody to be on the same page with that.”

Terry, Ndongo still out

Stoudamire said Thursday he expects Lance Terry and Baye Ndongo to remain inactive for the foreseeable future, but that both players could return before the end of the month. Terry and Ndongo are dealing with unspecified injuries and did not play in the team’s first two games or exhibition.

Terry played in 29 games in 2022-23 and averaged 10.1 points per game. Ndongo, originally from Senegal, is a 6-foot-9 freshman expected to play significant minutes once cleared.

The Jackets said they’re confident they can still perform at a high level even with Terry and/or Ndongo sidelined.

“We have a deep team. I think coach says that, we know that,” Tech guard Kyle Sturdivant said. “But we hold ourselves to a high standard. Even though we’re a little banged-up right now, we still have that standard and we’re gonna play up to it.”