After early season losses to the College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina, Sakerlina, UTEP, and Hawaii, no way no how did I think this team was capable of blowing out ACC opponents on the road by 19 points or more. And to do it twice simply speaks volumes about how far this team has come since November and December. Yes, these blowout wins were against the dregs of the conference, but this team, just like last year's squad, has seen marked improvement as the season has progressed.
After struggling against the non-conference slate, this team was a lot more competitive in early ACC games. But, other than a blowout win over Florida State, all we did was beat Georgia Tech and Wake at home and lose close games to everyone else.
But in the past week and a half, this team has seen marked improvement. The Tigers have now won 3 of their last 4, with the lone loss coming in Chapel Hill. Sitting at 6-7, the Tigers have a realistic shot at finishing the season with a .500 record in league play. After the losses to inferior in-state foes, as well as the losses in the Christmas tournament, did any of us really think this team had a shot at winning eight games in conference? Props to Brownell on again getting the most out of his guys. Now we just have to finish the job and hold serve at home against NC State and Virginia Tech.
In the game between these two teams at Clemson, Tech committed 15 1st half turnovers. What did they do as an encore tonight? 12 first half turnovers. So that means they're improving, right? Yes, Georgia Tech really is that bad. They turned it over 18 times, shot just 31.3% from the field, went 4-11 at the charity stripe, and they finished the game with just 37 points. Let me repeat that. They only managed to score 37 points. Only 4 of their players scored at all. Yes, part of that was due to our defense.
But I think when a team loses a heartbreaker the way this Tech team did at Blacksburg on Saturday, it can be really hard to bounce back. Throw in the fact that one of their best players is suspended from the game, and things get even trickier. Combine that with the fact that Georgia Tech already sucked anyways, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
ggggmen08 said before the game that if Tanner Smith, Andre Young, and Devin Booker all had great performances, then we would be able to blow out the Jackets. Devin might as well have been asleep in the first half he played so badly. Yet we were able to go into the half with a dominant 11 point lead. So how'd we do it? I agree that for us to win, we need big games out of Tanner and Andre as well as a big game from one of our post players. The difference in this game was which post player. The difference in the paint for us came not from Devin, but instead from Milton Jennings. He led us with 13 points in the first half and gave us the inside presence that we needed to complement the backcourt play of Tanner and Andre. He didn't look good in the 2nd half (just 2 points), and he committed way too many fouls (4), but he looked better tonight than he looked earlier in the season. I think his improved play can be traced back to his suspension. He seems to be playing better since his return to the lineup, although, yes, he still has a long ways to go.
What happened to Booker? Just when I was ready to heap praises on him for his improved play of late, he goes out and lays an egg. He missed a couple of shots in the early going, and after that he appeared to just give up, and he bottomed out with an airball on a mid-range jumper late in the opening half. He did came out fast and furious in the 2nd half, scoring just 14 seconds in and finishing with 8 points. But that doesn't make up for the zero effort he gave in the 1st half. He did the same thing against Virginia: 0 points in the first half but a lot of points in the 2nd. It's troubling to see him just give up after a couple of early misses. If he could just keep going after it and playing hard, even when his shot wasn't falling, he could become a dominating force like his brother. But will we ever see it?
Tanner and Andre didn't score as many points as usual, but they did combine for 10 assists (6 for Tanner!). Tanner's assist spree was highlighted by a pair of excellent passes in the opening minute of the 2nd half. On both plays, he stood at the 3-point line and zipped a pass into the paint to a wide open teammate who got the easy finish.
It was great to see another double digit performance out of KJ. Yeah, most of his points came in garbage time, but after seeing him with such a low profile in every game since his breakout in Blacksburg, his performance, even though it mostly came in garbage time, was reassuring and once again showed that he's gonna be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
I've talked to a couple of people that pretty much gave up on this team after the 3 game losing streak (UVA, VT, Maryland), but I think this team has done more than enough to earn some support after the last 4 games. I have no idea how many students read this site, but for any students out there reading this right now, please, for the love of God, go out and support this team. There were only about 300 or 400 students at the Maryland and Virginia games. It's just sad. There's just two home games left: the 100th year celebration Saturday against NC State (tips at 2:30) and Senior Night the following Thursday (tips at 9). I'd love to see more than 30 people there. Brownell and the guys would probably appreciate it too.