Oh Great, Georgia Tech
Allow yourself to think back to 1990, specifically the college football season. The University of Virginia has just completed its unexpected ascension to the top of the college football polls. The first game as the nation's #1 team is a road game (at Wake Forest). It's followed by a week off before the Hoos return to the field at home, the first game at Scott Stadium since taking the top ranking. Enter Georgia Tech.
Wait a damn minute!
Think back to the start of the 2017-2018 college basketball season. The Hoos begin the year unranked, picked sixth in the ACC preseason poll. Slowly and steadily, the Hoos work themselves up the polls before arriving at the top for the first time since 1982. Given how the prior season finished and where they started this season, it's easy to describe their place atop the college basketball world as unexpected.
The Hoos' first game as the nation's #1 team is played on the road at Miami. The win over Miami is followed by eight days off, essentially a bye week. When they return from the break, they'll have the opportunity to play their first game as the nation's top team at JPJ. Enter Georgia Tech.
It's kind of funny how that played out. Thankfully, Josh Pastner didn't have Scott Sisson's son hiding at the far end of the bench.
But he did have Ben Lammers. The Yellow Jacket's center was the best player on the court during the first half. At the break, in nineteen minutes of game action, he had scored 11 points on 5 for 8 shooting (1 for 2 from the foul line), grabbed 5 rebounds, and had 2 assists.
The Hoos entered the halftime break clinging to a one point lead, 31-30.
UVA fans can be glass half empty fatalists. Had they been aware of the scheduling coincidence surrounding the game, it would be easy to forgive them for bracing for the worst.
And that doesn't even begin to consider how the first half played out. I was thinking of a single word to describe the first half from UVA's perspective. Uninspired is what I arrived at.
The crowd was surprisingly lethargic. The effort on defense was lacking, especially by the guards who were often a couple steps too late getting to shooters. Jack Salt did a good job staying in front of Lammers, but the Yellow Jacket center still had his way with the Hoos' defense. Lammers was excellent in the high post, either directing traffic to find open shooters or moving into the low post to hit a number of difficult shots.
It seems that the Hoos got the message loud and clear during the halftime break. There was to be no Sisson moment tonight. The intensity was much better all around. The defensive effort improved allowing the offense to slowly pick apart the Yellow Jackets as they wore down.
The return of Ty Jerome, Howitzer Captain, was a welcome development as well. Jerome, in his first game without a heavily taped thumb since the trip to Florida State, saw his offensive game immediately return to form.
Jerome led the Hoos in scoring with 18 points. More importantly, he was 5 for 9 from the field including 4 for 6 from three. He also made all four of his free throw attempts. It was evident to all that confidence in his shot had returned completely. Assuming Jerome's shot is indeed back, the Hoos' offense received an important boost just in time for the regular season's close and the transition to single elimination basketball.
Josh Pastner deserves a special shot out as well. Pastner devised a really nice offensive gameplan, running most of the offense through Ben Lammers, especially from the high post. Lammers finished the night as the game's leading scorer with 22 points. It was the most impressed I've been with an opposing coach's offensive gameplan against the Hoos all season.
Lammers, who has been playing on a gimpy ankle all season, managed to gut out 39 minutes (all twenty second half minutes too), looking like he had gone fifteen rounds with Gennady Golovkin by game's end. Pastner was on top of his game all night, getting second half timeouts after Georgia Tech baskets seconds before three of the four media timeouts (under 16, under 8, and under 4). Those little bursts of extra rest kept Lammers on the court and Georgia Tech within striking distance most of the night.
So, we tip our cap to Coach Pastner but happily take the win. The Hoos also broke the cycle of a nasty bit of history hiding just below the surface.
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