Jackets feel need for others to step up

ATLANTA -- When Iman Shumpert leaves the floor, the other four players may as well just walk off with him.

In three of the four games in which the Georgia Tech guard has battled leg cramps that have forced him for long stretches out of second-half action, the Yellow Jackets’ offense has come to a virtual standstill. In those games, second-half scoring has become nonexistent, and halftime leads quickly turn into come-from-behind wins for the opposing team.

See Siena, Georgia and most recently, Charlotte.

Head coach Paul Hewitt wants to stop the disastrous trend as quickly as possible.

“It’s something we’ve got to get better at because it’s going to happen,” he said, referring to overcoming Shumpert’s cramps.

Now that the ACC season is here, beginning with Saturday’s conference-opener at Boston College (11-4, 1-0), the Yellow Jackets (7-6) have little room for error. Someone has to step up and take Shumpert’s place when his muscles lock up.

“Somebody’s got to step up; you’ve just got to want to win,” Shumpert said. “We’ve got guys who can step up, and they’ve got to understand that if I do go down, that’s just something they’ve got to do. They’ve got to pick up some rebounds, go a lot harder and execute a lot better. That’s just what we have to do.”

To his dismay, the outspoken junior is no stranger to the cramping issue. He dealt with the problem all throughout high school and has had it pop up at times earlier in his Georgia Tech career. This season, however, he has been attacked with them at an alarming clip, forcing the training staff to try every logical and safe remedy they can.

They’ve tried changing up his diet. Shumpert slams down bananas regularly and drinks only water and Gatorade.

They’ve tried medication. He sometimes takes medication that will slow the in-game progression of the cramps. The problem with that often is that it makes him sluggish at the start of games, and allows him to look like an inconsistent shooter.

“It’s tough because people talk about him and his inconsistency and they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about,” Hewitt said. “The only thing that seems to work makes him passive.”

So, trying not to affect his execution, the training staff has tried one final remedy, and executes it on a periodic basis only.

They give him post-cramp IVs.

For the sake of Shumpert’s long-term health, it is a method that cannot turn into a game-by-game phenomenon, Hewitt said.

Last Sunday, against Charlotte, in the Yellow Jackets’ final non-conference game, the IV solution was the remedy du jour, as he was treated during a more than eight minute stretch of the second half.

The Yellow Jackets were outscored 10-8 while he was out, and allowed the 49ers to pull it as close as within one. For about three of those minutes, the Yellow Jackets didn’t score at all.

While Charlotte wouldn’t take a lead until the first overtime that it forced, it was clear that the momentum Georgia Tech had built offensively through some 25 minutes of game play had slowed.

“You could see our offense came to a grinding halt,” Hewitt said after the game.

After returning with about seven minutes remaining in regulation, Shumpert went on to drain four 3s and a pair of free throws in a gutsy performance the rest of the way. He finished with 28 points, but it wasn’t enough to stop Charlotte which won in double overtime 86-83.

“I just didn’t want to lose,” Shumpert said.

In one other game where Shumpert’s cramps have been an issue, the Yellow Jackets were able to get production off the bench from sophomore guard Glen Rice, Jr.

With the star veteran sidelined, Rice contributed nine points against a good Richmond team. He went 5-for-6 from the free throw line to help ice the 13-point win.

Whether it is Rice, or guard Moe Miller, or wing Brian Oliver -- who seems to have rediscovered his shooting stroke -- or forwards Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey, someone will have to take Shumpert’s place when he goes down again, Hewitt said.

“Who it is, and how we do it (doesn’t matter),” Hewitt said.