Backup guard looks to make the most of his opportunities

MILWAUKEE — During the regular season, it could have been easy to overlook Moe Miller.

One of the many guards backlogged on Georgia Tech’s bench, the junior was known during the first half of the year mostly as a minute-filler, entering games to provide consistent relief for tired or foul-troubled starters.

But quietly, his steady, reliable play slowly began catching the eye of head coach Paul Hewitt, and the emphasis of Miller’s usage began to change.

As a result, the deeper the Yellow Jackets went into the season, Hewitt was fond of repeating refrains such as, “We’ve got to find a way to get Moe Miller into the game more.” Or “I always say, ‘You play the best players on the floor.’ ”

In the ACC tournament last week in Greensboro, N.C., Miller tried to prove that he was among the best in the tournament.

“It’s just wanting to win,” Miller said Thursday, citing his 13-point and 10-point performances off the bench during the conference tournament. “It’s the will and desire to keep playing. Not only for me, but for my team and for the seniors we’ve got. This will be the last time we’ll get this group of (players) together, so we just want to make it last as long as we can.”

With 10th-seeded Georgia Tech (22-12) squaring off against seventh-seed Oklahoma State (22-10) tonight at the Bradley Center, Miller hopes to recapture some of his magic from last week and keep his recent run alive and thriving.

After averaging just 10.5 minutes of play during Georgia Tech’s first 24 games, Miller has averaged 18.4 minutes in the past 10. Those outings include Sunday’s 10-point showing in Georgia Tech’s 65-61 loss to Duke in the conference tournament final and a 13-point effort against Maryland two games before that.

Much of Miller’s recent success has hinged on his fearless attitude from behind the 3-point arc. Getting into a rhythm and hitting clutch shot after clutch shot last week, he willed the Yellow Jackets to a narrow win over Maryland and almost helped them upset the Blue Devils.

“I always had confidence, it’s just waiting and being ready to step up and make that shot,” Miller said last week.

Although he went 3-for-4 off the bench against Maryland and then 2-for-4 against Duke from beyond 3, the shot that still has some Yellow Jackets fans scratching their heads was a close miss.

With about a minute remaining against Duke, he stepped into stride and lofted a 3-pointer from the left side that would have capped a nine-point, three-minute Georgia Tech comeback and tied the game. But as the ball began to circle the rim and into the hoop, it mysteriously bounced out and went long for a rebound to a teammate.

Instead of a 3, the Yellow Jackets had to settle for a dunk to bring it to within one. That was the closest they would come the rest of the game.

“I just knew it was good. When it came out my hand, I just knew I had made it,” Miller said.

Facing a team in Oklahoma State that ranks 15th nationally in 3-point attempts, Miller knows the Yellow Jackets could be in for a 3-point shootout. But whatever the Cowboys do will not necessarily dictate how often he takes long-distance shots of his own. He wants to have his own rhythm.

“I don’t go into the game looking to do (take 3s), I just go in trying to be patient and looking for whatever’s available at the time,” he said. “Sometimes that’s what ends up being open sometimes.”

While not the household name most casual Yellow Jackets fans are used to hearing, the injury-plagued Miller — who had a concussion and broken nose last season and experienced another concussion this preseason because of a car accident — has long been a fixture for the Yellow Jackets.

“Although he hasn’t gotten a lot of time early on, whenever things are sort of going wrong, you can hear Moe’s voice in the huddle,” guard Iman Shumpert said. “He’s got the most experience, and when he’s out there on the perimeter, he’s always comfortable. You don’t see him all frantic.

“Just having his experience on the floor, helps us have a lot of confidence on the perimeter.”