“It’s an ACC basketball game, it was extremely hard-fought. I don’t know that you’d say that either team felt like they’d played great, but I think kids rose and stepped up and made big plays. Adam (Smith) in the first half was 4-for-5, in the second half he made one with Marcus (Paige) having one finger in one nostril and another finger in the other nostril and he still made the thing. And then he made that one from the top of the key when it was a six point game that if he misses, it’s a huge, huge miss. I thought he was sensational. Marcus (Georges-Hunt) kept getting to the free throw line.
"We couldn’t keep him off the free throw line, but I was pleased with our rebounding. They’re one of the best rebounding teams in the country. On their offensive boards, I think they’re fifth in the country, and we gave up a couple of early rebounds to them, and then after that I thought we did a much better job. I told (Georgia Tech head coach) Brian (Gregory), this was before the game, that I liked his club, that they’re so, so much better than they were last year and he’s done a great job with them. They’ve got some new guys that look like they’d been there with them the whole time, the way they’ve bought into what he wants for them to do. When you have a 3-point shooter like Smith, you’ve got a guy that drives it to the basket and gets to shoot 15 free throws like Marcus (Georges-Hunt), and then you’ve got (Charles) Mitchell and those guys doing everything inside, it’s tough to guard that kind of team.
"For us, I thought Joel Berry made a couple of huge, huge plays. I didn’t think he’d played well at all until that point. In the first half, he had two turnovers. It was sort of unusual. Nate (Britt) had three. In the second half, Joel (Berry) had three more turnovers. That’s just unusual for him. For a guy to slap it from behind as you’re dribbling down the court, that should never happen. But he stepped up and made a big three when I think it was a two point game, and then we got a stop, and he came down and he took it to the basket, got fouled, made the shot for an old-fashioned three-point play, and to me those were the two biggest plays in the game right there. I think we scored again, maybe Justin Jackson the next possession.
"But for us, we finally got some stops on the defensive end of the floor, were able to get out of there, felt good about some guys, and you look down the line and you get six guys in double figures, you love that. And I though the big fella early, Joel (James), was really something for us. I think he would have scored one of the other times hadn’t he dribbled it before trying to go up , but 5-for-6 for a guy like that. He tries really hard. Can’t be a greater kid, a greater person than Joel James. So I’m extremely happy for him. It was a Joel and Joel party there for a while tonight, and I was happy they were both with us.”
Did you try anything differently in the second half guarding Adam Smith?
“I challenged them to play better. He was 4-for-5 in the first half and he was 2-for-5 in the second half, and one of those two was really guarded with Marcus (Paige) right in front of their bench. Still, he made that one coming up to the center that closed the doors that we couldn’t get through, and he made the big shot. We tried to emphasize it more, I challenged guys, 4-for-5 in the first half, 14 points, he shouldn’t do that well in the second half.”
Was Georgia Tech doing anything specifically to disrupt Joel Berry and cause him to turn the ball over five times?
“Defensively, they’re good. First half, we shot 45 percent and turned it over seven times I think in the first half as well, and we haven’t been doing that. Give their defense credit. If you’re a guard, point guard, at this level and somebody knocks your ball away from behind, your brain is somewhere other than it should be. You look at Joel’s statistics all year long, and he’s four assists/five turnovers today. I think he’s probably, I’m gonna guess on this, two-and-a-half to one. I think the last game he had 11 assists and one turnover, so it’s unusual and weird. I’m gonna say weird because weird means hell, it should not supposed to happen again.”
For Joel Berry to make those big shots despite turnovers, what does that say about his evolution as a player?
“He’s a tough kid. We called the play for him to shoot the three in front of our bench in the corner and that one didn’t go in, but we played one of those games in Kansas City (against Kansas State), he wasn’t very good, and he was awful. I told him during the timeout, we’re gonna run a play for you to shoot this out of the corner and I know you’re gonna make the shot. That was the biggest shot of that game. He’s a tough kid, there’s no question about that, he got whacked upside the head on the first play or second play of the game when he thought he’d taken a charge and he’d banged his head on the floor. It helped him make that last three and made bunch of free throws too, so it’d be alright for him to fall again.”
How do you get your team to look past at times poor officiating?
“It was frustrating, but shoot, that’s the game of basketball. I was more frustrated because our guys started talking and thinking about it. I told them at halftime, I don’t care how many mistakes the officials make, they didn’t make as many mistakes as we made. And then I went through several mistakes everybody made. I said the officials didn’t make that many mistakes. And when we think the officials make a mistake, what does the other bench think? ‘God, great call.’ It’s a hard game to officiate. It’s frustrating at times, but I think of my challenges to make sure our guys control what they can, and that’s their own play, and the officials, it’s a hard job, guys. A long time ago, I was very involved in officiating, and that’s not guys that are 6’10 or 6’11 that can run and fly around the court. It’s a hard game to officiate.”
How do you balance Brice Johnson’s good play and at times demonstrative reactions to calls?
“That’s Brice, I mean my gosh. You guys have seen him for four years. He’s demonstrative when I ask him what he wants for lunch. It’s just him. I think that he charged that guy at the end. I didn’t think he hit him quite that hard, but I think he charged the guy. He jumps around, and I screamed at him, that kind of thing, but that’s just Brice. I think the officials even know that. But he’s demonstrative, but think about it. When a call goes his way, what is he? He’s demonstrative. Against him like that? He’s demonstrative. When he dunks the ball, what is he? He’s not the little flower. He stands there and growls and pounds his dadgum chest like he’s done something. That’s him.”
Was Kennedy Meeks any closer to returning today?
“No. Not at all. He shot some layups before the game today, but I did not watch him shoot one layup. He will not play Monday night. He hasn’t practiced yet. So I can still say I have not seen him shoot a layup.”
What did you like about execution down the stretch?
"We’ve got some guards who have played. Marcus is a fourth-year, Joel (Berry) is a second-year, Nate is third-year. Those guys do a nice job. Justin Jackson played last year. Brice stepped up and made the free throws. I think Joel (James) missed one and Joel (Berry) missed one. Down the stretch, I know we only missed two. So I think that I like guys who can finish games, and I think we finished it by the way we handled the basketball, (we) didn’t turn it over and I think we also are pleased at by the way we made our free throws. You know, we changed a little bit defensively just to see if we could make something take them a little longer, but you now we got some good rebounds. It’s the game of basketball, we’re one defense and they took along three right in front of their bench, and guess who didn’t box out – Marcus Paige, daggum Academic All-American didn’t box out there. It’s basketball.”