February 26, 2008
ATLANTA Crash Davis, as played by Kevin Costner, produced a rainout to end his team's losing streak in the movie Bull Durham. The same tactic failed to snap Georgia Tech's basketball team from its slump.
The Yellow Jackets lost four straight games from Feb. 9-23, and the streak might have been five had a Feb. 21 game against Virginia not been postponed by a leaky roof above one of the baskets at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
The slump dropped their record to 11-14. With a remaining schedule that included games against Duke, Boston College and Clemson, as well as one against an ACC frontrunner in the league tournament, the Jackets are in danger of finishing with a losing record for the second time in three seasons.
This from a team with a chance to move into fourth place in the ACC and position itself for an NCAA at-large bid as recently as Valentine's Day.
Tech was 4-4 in league play and had won two straight ACC road games when it visited Clemson on Feb. 14. But the Tigers outscored the Yellow Jackets by 14 points at the foul line in an 82-67 rout.
The Jackets played well the next time out against Miami but lost when the defense lost track of the league's top three-point shooter, Jack McClinton. He hit a three-pointer in the final minute to seal the victory.
Tech's frustrations boiled over afterward. The players glossed over a multitude of mistakes and miscues including 22 turnovers, 12-of-21 shooting from the free throw line, allowing Miami's Anthony King to come away with an offensive rebound with a little more than a minute remaining, and leaving McClinton open for the game-winning three-pointer and focused instead on a no-call by the officials in the closing seconds.
The play wasn't even that controversial. The Jackets trailed by four points with less than 10 seconds to go. Senior point guard Matt Causey went to shoot a three-pointer, and with a Miami player charging him, Causey jumped into the defender and threw up a double-clutch shot that went in the basket.
There was contact, but Causey initiated it as much as the Miami player. Had a foul been called, Causey would have gone to the line for a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime.
But the officials refused to blow their whistles. The fans went berserk.
And Tech forward Jeremis Smith, a senior, complained about it afterward.
"We just talked about it in the locker room," Smith said, "and he said he definitely got fouled."
Tech coach Paul Hewitt refused to engage in the excuse-making. Asked about the play in question, he responded, "I didn't see it."
Even if he had, Hewitt knows never to expect the officials to make a game-deciding foul call in the final seconds.
Smith and the rest of the players should have learned that earlier this year against North Carolina, when Zach Peacock double-clutched a shot instead of going strong on the last possession. Peacock wanted a foul called on Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough. Had Peacock gone straight to the rim, he likely would have either scored or been involved in a collision that guaranteed a foul call.
REBOUNDING REMAINS PROBLEM
The rainout came four days after the Miami loss, and it probably worked against the Yellow Jackets as much as it did for them.
Virginia is the ACC's worst team, after all, with a 2-9 start in the conference. Tech beat the Cavaliers by 10 points on the road earlier this season.
Another victory would have given the Jackets a much-needed boost of confidence. Instead, they took a three-game losing streak to Virginia Tech, fell behind by eight points late in the first half, and never recovered.
The Hokies out-rebounded the Jackets 42-27, and even a career-high 29 points from true freshman point guard Maurice Miller couldn't soften the disappointment.
Through three-quarters of the ACC schedule, Tech ranked with Florida State and N.C. State two of its neighbors near the conference basement at the bottom of the league's statistics in rebounding margin.
The Seminoles were woefully short of healthy, reliable big men this season, which could help explain their rebounding woes. The same excuses are not available for State or Tech.
In theory, the Jackets have plenty of beef in the post. Smith, a 6-8, 236-pound senior, leads the team with about seven rebounds per game, but nobody else is close. Peacock (4.1), junior Alade Aminu (4.3) and freshman Gani Lawal (3.8) have shown some promise on the glass, but none is averaging more than 20 minutes per game, as Hewitt has opted for smaller lineups at times.
Next up for Tech? ACC leader Duke, on the road at Cameron Indoor
Stadium. The Yellow Jackets will be flirting with the ACC cellar when they travel to Durham. They will be one of three teams with four league wins, ahead of only Virginia.