Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is off to a great start for the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team, as they played some of their best basketball of the season in a 67-64 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini in front of a energized McCamish Pavilion Crowd.
This game was a back and forth barn-burner that displayed the best (and worst) of the Yellow Jackets. In the end the good outshone the bad, and Georgia Tech made their winning contribution to the Big Ten/ACC challenge.
In the first half, the Yellow Jackets started off showing the worst of times, starting the half shooting 4 of 14 from the field, with Trae Golden getting into early foul trouble by picking up two quick ones by the 14:30 mark. Illinois was able to stretch the lead to 26-17 while Golden was on the bench. But Golden subbed back in with 6:20 left in the half and the best of Georgia Tech showed up.
The Yellow Jackets went on a 14-2 run to snatch a 31-28 lead before going into the intermission up 36-33. The run was sparked by the play of Robert Carter Jr. and Marcus Georges-Hunt as the Jackets closed the half shooting 9-14 from the field.
At the start of the second half it was almost like the Georgia Tech forgot what they had done to get back in the game. The look on head coach Brian Gregory‘s face said it all as he saw his team stop throwing the ball into the block and stop penetrating the Illinois zone off the dribble, the way they had done to get the lead in the first half.
While Georgia Tech went through their mental block, Rayvonte Rice of Illinois took over. Rice sparked a 21-4 run in the second half that aided in Illinois grabbing the biggest lead of the game at 58-48. During that stretch Rice was 4-5 from the field and finished with a game high 24 points.
But Georgia Tech would not be denied tonight. The Yellow Jackets took the lead to 60-53, which forced Illinois to call a timeout. After the Illini timeout, the Jackets closed the game on a 14-4 run that was ignited by a Solomon Poole three-ball from the corner off of a Georges-Hunt drive and kick.
The game got a little tense though in the closing minutes when the Jackets tied the game at 60-60 after a Georges-Hunt layup however. Daniel Miller fouled Nnanna Egwu of Illinois on a jumper that turned into a three point play after the made free throw to make the game 63-60 Illinois. But after Tracy Abrams hit 1 of 2 free throws to take the Illinois lead to four with 1:09 left, Robert Carter Jr. hit his biggest shot of the night when he drained a trey to cut the lead down to one. Then after a Daniel Miller steal and layup snared the lead back for Georgia Tech at 65-64, Robert Carter Jr. sank two free throws that sealed the game.
Robert Carter Jr. was huge with 21 points and nine boards to his credit and Marcus Georges-Hunt was equally as big with 20 points on 7-13 shooting from the field.
Hopefully the Yellow Jackets take away some lessons from this game. They seemed to have mental lapses in this game that caused them to make this a more difficult situation than it needed to be. I am very sure that coach Gregory is thrilled with the fight that his team showed and also that his team kept the turnovers to single digits with only nine tonight. However, The Jackets still seem to be searching for that ever elusive complete game. Maybe they will have it when they play East Tennessee St. on Saturday.