Game Notes: No. 4 Wake Forest at Georgia Tech
A taste of Madness in January.
My Facebook Status (Jan. 31, 9:53 a.m.): “DeMarco will be in the stands when GA Tech upsets No. 4 Wake Forest.”
Friend’s Comment (Jan. 31, 10 a.m.): “I can’t see it happening. Too many turnovers and scoring lapses from Ga. Tech.”
…And so my day begins. The Arizona Cardinals are a day away from shocking most of the football world down in Tampa. No reason why the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets can’t do the same on the hardwood against No. 4 Wake Forest. Their 9-10 overall record isn’t terribly soothing when making such bold predictions, but the Jackets have a great coach in Paul Hewitt and some solid players like Gani Lawal and Lewis Clinch, who just haven’t been able to keep it going consistently. But something –I can’t quite call it just yet- feels special about today.
– As I make the 15-minute drive from my house to the Tech campus, I almost instantly notice a good energy around the place. Fans are in pleasant spirits. Folks on the shuttle from the parking lot to Alexander Memorial Coliseum are even chatty.
– Inside the arena, there’s more of the same. I see the usual vendors, hawking everything from programs to New Era caps to turkey legs and Dipping Dots. I notice somebody in the Geico frog outfit, handing out skull caps. I grab one. Don’t laugh. Atlanta’s low will approach 22 by mid week.
– I make my way to the media section of about five rows. I notice the regular local names. I spot the Carolina outlets. I see at least six or seven reps from NBA teams. The only one I recognize by face is Pete Babcock, the Atlanta Hawks GM from ’90-03 who infamously made the Danny Manning-for-Dominique Wilkins trade that many here still have not forgiven him for.
— The media guide has a page with all the Tech players currently in the NBA. With Mario West (Atlanta), Chris Bosh (Toronto), Javaris Crittenton (Washington), Anthony Morrow (Golden State), Matt Harpring (Utah), Will Bynum (Detroit), Jarrett Jack (Indiana), Thaddeus Young (Philly) and Stephon Marbury (New York… well, kind of), the list is impressive.
– The retired jerseys, hanging from the rafters, belong to the following: Harpring, Tom Hammonds, Mark Price, John Salley and old-schoolers Rick Yunkus and Roger Kaiser. Umm, you’ll have to ask GT’s athletic director Dan Radakovich why Travis Best and James Forrest’s numbers aren’t up there.
– There’s a relatively small but boisterous contingent of Wake Forest fans in the building. The five-hour drive from Winston-Salem isn’t terrible, I guess. Plus, Demon Deacons Tony Woods and freshman sensation Al-Farouq Aminu are Georgia natives, so their families had to represent.
– Al-Farouq’s brother, Alade, plays with Georgia Tech, making this only the second time in ACC history that brothers face off against each other. That’s kind of cool… Even cooler is the siblings’ fan club that raises a “Go Aminu” sign every time either does anything.
– Most of the coaches are wearing suits with sneakers. One journalist wonders if the fashion statement is because their gear was stolen. It isn’t. Come to find out they’re making a statement for the Coaches vs. Cancer cause.
– Okay, game time. In Al-Farouq, forward James Johnson (who’s spotlighted in Sports Illustrated this week, by the way), Jeff Teague, Wake is loaded. Either of the three could drop 20 today.
– Like in pregame, Alexander Memorial Coliseum’s energy is high early on. Even with Tech down six or eight, the blue and gold are cheering on their guys. Forwards Gani Lawal and Zachery Peacock seem to thrive off the energy most, as each is bangin’ with everything they have in the paint.
– The GT guards look somewhat timid. Passes aren’t terribly crisp. There seems to be a hint of hesitation in the cuts and moves. Maybe it’s nerves. Maybe it’s being eye-to-eye with Teague, the ACC’s second-leading scorer.
– Overheard by two writers to my left: “We used to have five reporters. Now we’re down to three. We can’t hire stringers or interns. And they still want us to do the same job.” While that was an Atlanta-area writer talking, that quote can apply to nearly every newspaper in this country. Times are rough in the print world. Sigh.
– With 7:21 left in the first half, it’s 30-27, Wake. The place is electric. Though the Jackets haven’t played well by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just a one-possession game.
– Right behind the rims on each side is a standing-room-only section for Tech students. They sing. They dance. They do the fluttering fingers thing when the opposition takes free-throw shots. They’re REALLY close to the action. Kind of scary actually.
– None of it seems be bothering Al-Farouq. The 6-9, 215 stud looks kind of like Dwight Howard. He doesn’t have nearly the build to bang like the Orlando star, but he’s gifted in his own ways. His hands are great. His feet might be even better. He’ll slither and hop-skip to get a rebound or an open shot. He’s going to be a good one.
– Lawal is another. The ACC leader in rebounding shows why, getting to nearly every free board and darning somebody, with flailing elbows, to try to take the rock from him.
– Clinch nails down another shot for Tech. With 2:42 left, he’s got a quiet 13 points. His offensive efficiency might be getting to Teague because there’s a lot of conversation between the opposing backcourts. Teague is issued a tech. Only a few plays later, another Wake guard, Ishmael Smith, and Tech guard, Iman Shumpert, are given techs. There’s a mild ruckus. Nothing serious.
– This game, however, is very serious. 43-41, Wake Forest at the half.
— At the break, former Tech star Dennis Scott, No. 4 all-time Tech scorer, comes to midcourt and announces that there will be an alumni game happening immediately after this one’s conclusion. He says he’s going to play along with Price (No. 3 all-time scorer), Duane Ferrell (No. 9), Malcolm Mackey (No. 10) and a few others. I’ll probably pass on that one.
– The second half gets going. Clearly, Coach Hewitt wants Clinch to continue being the offensive centerpiece. Unfortunately for them, Lewis misses his first three attempts. Maybe it was just a first-half thing. Wait, he makes his next two. He’s good.
– Wake simply can’t shake Tech. Timeout. The cheerleaders come out. Not a soul is paying attention to them. Poor things.
– Lawal is still beasting. 15 points… 17… 19… 21. He’s either making a high-percentage lay-up or getting to the line and nailing down the one-and-one.
– Wake might be No. 4 on the ESPN polls, but they aren’t showing the same killa they did just a few days back in their big win versus Duke. Johnson tries to calm things down with a couple of respectable buckets. I like this kid’s game a lot. He’s got this Carlos Boozer thing going with the muscular exterior but smooth finish. The NBA scouts have to be drooling.
– The Aminu match-up is pretty exciting and nowhere near the one-sided affair one might have thought coming in the gym. Alade is holding his own. He’s got a few buckets and a ton of rebounds. As for Al-Farouq, it doesn’t matter if he airballs or dunks, he shows the same expression on his face- nothing.
– Look at Lawal… 23 points… 25.
– 65-62, Tech. Uhhh ohhhh.
– I’m kind of disappointed in Tech PG Ian Shumpert. I haven’t seen the kid out of Illinois do much of anything today. Teague, on the other hand, is starting to show why he’s a likely first- or second-team All-ACCer. He nails a clutch jumper. 2:27 remaining. 72-68, Wake Forest.
– The Deacons have the ball. This one might be over. They’re toying with the clock. That’s the right move to make… if you ultimately take a shot. They don’t. Shot clock violation. Really?! Tech ball.
– Remember Shumpert? He finally shows his face when the Jackets need him most. The freshman nails the biggest shot of his young collegiate life. 74-74. Seven ticks left.
– Wake’s looking to inbound. Tech’s D is solid but nowhere near super-suffocating. Wake still throws the ball away. Tech’s got it. Really?!
– Umm, remember Shumpert? Four seconds… Three… Two… Bang, Shumpert does it again! Ball game. 76-74, Georgia Tech.
– Every person in navy or gold between the ages of 18 and 25 storms the court.
– Once the smoke clears at the post-game interview, Wake coach Dino Gaudio says, “There are no upsets in this league. I don’t care where you are playing, this is the best league in the country.” Though there may be a touch of hometown bias in me when I say it, on this day at least, I’ll have to agree with the man.