Court Vision: Jackets punish Bulldogs in early-season rivalry game

Georgia Tech forward Charles Mitchell scored 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds in his first game with the Yellow Jackets.

Brett Davis/Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Going inside the Yellow Jackets’ 80-73 win over the Bulldogs on Friday night in McCamish Pavilion.

At 6-foot-8, there will be times this season when Demarco Cox and Charles Mitchell are undersized big men in the paint. At least when it comes to height that is.

Where the duo lacks in vertical stature, it more than makes up for that deficiency with forceful mass. Mitchell tips the scale at 268 pounds and Cox plays at a lumbering 276.

But while pair can definitely terrorize the paint with their linemen-like frames, they showed a grace and agility that should work wonders for them against taller, more sluggish foes.

Mitchell doesn’t move like a big man near the glass. Instead of speeding through the lane like the unstoppable force every Physics student learns about, he glides and pivots and gets shots to the rim using evasion tactics instead of brute strength. He’ll never be confused for a ballerina, or even a swing forward, but Mitchell will outmaneuver many of his defenders this season.

Cox didn’t quite show Mitchell’s grace in the lane, but he exploded into flight when he was within eight feet of the basket. The angles he took, and the quickness with which he made it to the hoop was very much unlike what should be expected from the moose of a man that he is.

Mitchell and Cox have the size to push people around. That’s normal for players in the front court. What’s atypical about them is how fleet and nimble their inside games are.

Sophomore forward Quinton Stephens remedied a quiet six-point first-half showing by going off in the second half.

On 5 for 8 shooting after halftime, Stephens added 16 points in the second half to finish with a career- and game-high 22. He also added five rebounds, which was impressive because he practically live beyond the 3-point arc.

Stephens landed six 3-pointers on Friday in front of the home crowd and shot 75 percent from long distance. He was 1 for 3 on his other field-goal attempts and nailed two free throws.

While his scoring acumen was impressive, Stephens also showed some gut-check skills when he nailed two 3-pointers within 39 seconds with six minutes left to play. His first took Tech’s lead to nine points, and the second seemed to let the air out of Georgia’s comeback attempt.

"He’s a good shooter," head coach Brian Gregory said after the game. "We got him open shots. The one thing Quinton has a really good feel of is finding open spots to get those shots. I thought he played a good game even before he hit those shots. (But) we’ll get him some shots."

Georgia entered halftime trailing Georgia Tech by 10 points. The Dawgs were fortunate to be that close.

The Dawgs scored five points in the final 76 seconds of the first half to whittle the deficit. And then they outscored the Yellow Jackets in the second half to make the game close.

But Georgia just couldn’t do enough late to overcome the hole it dug itself into in the first 18 minutes of the game.

The Dawgs were 11 for 35 (31.4 percent) in the first half from the floor, and just 4 for 16 (25 percent) form three-point range. In contrast, Georgia Tech shot 48.5 percent from the floor in the first half.

"The difference in the game was our inability to do something besides settle for the three-point shot early," said head coach mark Fox. "Give Tech’s defense credit for making that the only shot our guys were willing to work for."

Another area the Yellow Jackets dominated the Dawgs early was on the glass. Georgia Tech out-rebounded Georgia 27-17 in the first half. Tech scored eight second-chance points in the first half.

Poor shooting and rebounding early was what got Georgia in trouble.

80: Mitchell finished second in scoring with 20 points. He was so successful due to his 80 percent success rate. Mitchell hit 8 of 10 from the floor and added four foul shots. In games in his career where he’d taken more than five shots, Mitchell has never hit better than 72 percent. He was absolutely on target on Friday.

8: Robert Sampson only added three points to Georgia Tech’s final total of 80. But he was helpful elsewhere on the floor. Sampson pulled down eight rebounds and caught Coach Gregory’s attention by playing in such a fierce manner on the glass, even when his shots weren’t falling. Sampson was 1 for 4 in the game.

4: The last time Georgia beat Georgia Tech in basketball was during the 2010-11 season. The Yellow Jackets have four consecutive wins over the Dawgs, and Gregory has never lost to the boys from Athens during his tenure at Tech.

"Both schools have issues in scheduling, and this is just where we ended up. It was the only time we could play the game when the students were on campus." — Fox on why such a huge rivalry game was played at the beginning of the season.

"It’s an important game for us, for this program and for our guys. I never build it up too much for our guys — you just never know, if you lose the game it’s just one game — but, it’s important. There could be a lot of different reasons why it is. I always say, one night a year playing in this program takes on a little extra-special meaning in the fact that you’re playing against Georgia." — Gregory on the rivalry between Tech and UGA