ATLANTA — A little more than a year ago, then-high school phenom Iman Shumpert welcomed Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt into his Chicago-area home. The two shared an intimate conversation that made Shumpert firmly believe that Georgia Tech was the place he wanted to spend his collegiate basketball career.
“He definitely told me that at the end of the game, the ball’s in (my) hands,” Shumpert said. “I get to call it, I get to make decisions, and the team, we’re going to live with it. He said he always prided himself in having a big point guard, and at the end of the game, he told me, ‘Do what you do. One-four low, this is what you do, this is what you want.’ ”
Saturday afternoon, at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Shumpert showed his head coach and nearly 8,900 others exactly what he wanted, when he dribbled the ball upcourt, worked against Wake Forest guard Jeff Teague and snapped off a last-second jump shot from just inside the free-throw line. The final shot in Georgia Tech’s 76-74 upset over the No. 6 Demon Deacons, the 16-foot jumper sent Yellow Jackets fans home happier than they’ve been all season.
Drawing a joyous swarm of running, screaming fans onto the court moments later, the emotional win was Georgia Tech’s first ACC victory of the season and its first since a Jan. 6 win over Georgia. It was marks the first time the Yellow Jackets (10-10, 1-6) have beaten a top-10 team since March 1, 2007, when they knocked off North Carolina at home.
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“It’s great for the guys,” Hewitt said. “You get to 0-6 in the conference, and you start to doubt yourself. That’s been the biggest thing. We were playing poorly, and I kept telling them that they were doing all the right things. We were doing the right things, we just have to get rewarded. (Saturday) was a great reward, especially for a young man like Iman,”
With one second remaining on the game clock after Shumpert’s score, the Demon Deacons — who had just beaten No. 1 Duke on a last-second layup of their own Wednesday — were hoping to have another opportunity to snatch a late-game victory from a conference opponent. But when their desperation, fullcourt pass was picked off by Georgia Tech’s Zachery Peacock as time fully expired, those hopes were dashed.
Wake Forest head coach Dino Gaudio thought his team’s close loss was a perfect example of what he believes is a strong parity in the conference. Rest and significant game-planning opportunities are greatly needed for teams in the ACC to prepare for each other, he said.
“There are no upsets in this league,” Gaudio said. “I don’t care where you are playing, this is the best league in the country. And we had the luxury of a week off before playing Duke, and we had the luxury of a week off before North Carolina, and Georgia Tech had what, six days off for us? Timing in these games is so important. Don’t think that it’s not.”
Those extra days off seemed to really pay off for the Yellow Jackets at the free-throw line, as they shot a blistering 77 percent, going 23-for-30. Entering the game, they ranked last in the ACC in the category, registering a tame 59 percent showing from the line.
“Overall, the difference between this game, and the others is that we made free throws and kept our turnovers down,” Hewitt said. “When we do that, you’ll see some good basketball out of this group.”
The Yellow Jackets received so many opportunities to make their free throws because of a slew of fouls incurred by Wake Forest players. With less than three minutes remaining in the first half, four Demon Deacons already had two or more fouls. By the end of the second half, four of Wake Forest’s starters and two backups were forced to the bench after picking up three or four fouls each.
Referees handed out three total technical fouls — two for Wake Forest and one for Georgia Tech. Many of the Demon Deacons’ fouls were the result of the highly physical, aggressive tone that embodied the game for both teams.
“One of the things that we did (Friday) night was we must have showed (the players) 15 physical plays from last year,” Gaudio said. “We clipped our games and their games, and that’s one of the things that we showed them after our meal (Friday) night — how physical the game was going to be.”
With players arguing back and forth and matching each other’s defensive intensity, the style of play was a refreshing change for Georgia Tech forward Gani Lawal. To him, there has been very little of that style of play in recent games, but he hopes the Yellow Jackets can quickly make that their calling card once again.
“That’s Georgia Tech basketball,” Lawal said. “Playing hard, meeting guys at the rim. No dirty play, but being physical, getting on the ground after loose balls, that’s Georgia Tech basketball.”