Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Shock the Monkey

Wow, after two years of futility in true road games, the Jackets finally shake the streak, downing FSU 63-57. Yes, it took Toney Douglas being out with injury and Al Thornton not 100%. But guess what - I don't care. The Jackets shook off their demons and got the W. A win on the road in the ACC matters. On a night when neither Thaddeus Young nor Anthony Morrow could buy a bucket, the Jackets found a way to win. Well, they found a PG to will them to a win. It was the Javaris Crittenton show tonight. Make no mistake.

Two keys to the game - Defense and Javaris Crittenton. That was the game right there. Another solid defensive effort by the Jackets, particularly in the 2nd half.

It was back-and-forth the entire first half. The Jackets eeked out a small 6 pt lead but later lost it and went into the half trailing 35-30. The second half was back-and-forth again, until the Jackets, though tough D, developed a slight 4-8 point margin they were able to hold for much of the remaining half. The key to the run - Al Thornton sitting on the bench with 4 fouls. Interestingly by the 3:22 mark, FSU had only scored 11 pts in the 2nd half, but it was only a slim 4 point margin. The closed the gap to 2 points, but the Jackets were able to hang on for the W through solid ball control, a couple of key shots and solid free throw shooting down the stretch. Wow!

Well, Tony Douglas didn't play due to injury. Al Thornton was hurt and the Jackets bottled him up for most of the game (well until the end). They got him into foul trouble early in the 2nd half which put him on the bench until about 6-8 minutes remaining. So who stepped up? Isiah Swann just tore it up in the 1st half, hardly missing a shot. Lucky for the Jackets he cooled off in the 2nd half, but he did end the game with 23 pts................... Thornton, easily the best player in the ACC (yes, better than Hansbrough), still ended with 16 pts, but the Jackets really kept him in check most of the night. With Toney Douglas FSU is a tournament caliber team, but just not quite the same with him out.

I said it before and I'll say it again. This was the Javaris Crittenton show tonight. This was the first game of the season where during each possession last in the 2nd half I found myself mumbling "just get it to JC and let him do something. Get it to JC. Get it to JC.".................. JC ended with 29 pts (10-17, 3-9, 6-7). He had 18 of those points in the 2nd half. He had a key layup and 3pt play late in the game. Not only that he hit 4 key free throws in the final minute to keep the game just out of reach. In addition, I believe he had ZERO turnovers in the 2nd half and as a team I think they only had 3. That's just outstanding.

You know, I always have mixed feelings about a PG that leads the team in scoring. I generally don't like it. But during that recent string of 20+ pts games by JC I rarely found myself saying "what's he doing". I just haven't been frustrated with his shot selection. The guy has really seemed to take the offense as it comes to him. He only had 3 assists and had 3 to's, but he also added 5 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals. In addition, he played much of the 2nd half with 3 fouls, so he did a good job controlling his play.

Here's the thing. JC willed this team to the win tonight. He absolutely refused to let us lose. I'm not exaggerating when I say that. He would not let the team lose. I don't know if he can keep playing like this the rest of the season, but if so - watch out. Just an outstanding job by JC tonight. He was the difference. Last season this game would be a loss. The Jackets would not finish. They would have faded. Tonight they didn't. They held on and made plays. They got the W. And JC with the difference. Did I mention that already?

Jeremis Smith delivered a dagger tonight. With less than a minute to go and the clock shot running out he gets a wild pass and drains a 3pt shot to put the Jackets up by 7. A key shot in the game as it turned out............. That would be two 3pt shots in the past two games, but only his 3rd on the season. Jeremis had his usual workmanlike game, scoring 10 (4-6, 1-1, 1-2), 7 boards (3 off), 1 assist 2 steals. It was a usual JS night.

Now, what about this 3pt shooting? Hewitt's comment was that with 10 seconds or less on the shot clock our guys generally are told to take the shot if you have it. He had it. He took it. He made it. Jeremis had a rep as a guy in high school that had an outside shot. He's certainly never shown it at Tech. And let's be honest - it's not a great looking stroke. Do I want Smith shooting the ball from behind the arc much? Not really. But if he's going to hit 35% or so of those then tossing one up there every once in awhile might keep the defenses honest.

Thaddeus Young couldn't buy a bucket tonight. Neither could A-Mo. Between them they were 2-17. By listening to Wes Durham, you would absolutely believe that A-Mo was devoid of confidence in his game tonight. First off, his shooting was off. He was even shaky catching passes. Then he missed a key free throw with less than a minute in the game. However, A-Mo is the type guy that finds a way to do other things when the shot isn't falling - like rebounding, scrapping inside, etc. He did hit two to ice it with 12 seconds to go. He did grab 7 boarsd (4 off). as well. Let's hope A-Mo gets the mental side of his game right - because make no mistake - A-Mo is the most deadly shooter on this team................. period.

Here's the beautiful thing about TY/AMo going 2-17................ we still won. On a night when those 2 guys were terrible offensively we still won in the ACC on the road. Coach Hewitt said that it should send a key message to ALL the guys on the team - that defense and rebounding DO win games.

There were 44 fouls called in the game tonight. Not complaining. Just saying. Tonight the refs decided not to let these guys play.

Said Javaris has a tremendous will to win - he saw it in high school and we've seen it this season. There is a rumor out there that he cheated him mom in UNO to win when he was 8 years old................. Said a key tonight was FSU's offensive rebounding. They only had 7 offensive boards (+2 dead ball boards), and the Jackets missed a total of 31 shots, so there were opportunities. He was pleased with the rebounding effort.........................Bottom-line is that you just want to be in the ball game the last 4 minutes - that's all you can ask on the road in the ACC................. The team will have the day off Wed to get back to class, then they're back to work thurs.................

The Jackets have played themselves squarely back into the bubble. No, they're not in the dance yet. There's still plenty of work to be done. But they're back in the national conversation again. The Jackets have as many marque wins on their resume as anyone in the country. That is not lip service - it is real. But they need to be as close to .500 in the ACC as possible. They could use another road victory and they need to protect home court.

All they have done is played themselves into an opportunity to play again for a chance for something bigger. Confused? Don't be. Build on this win like they did on each game during this win streak. The prize is visible again, but it's still out of reach. Stay hungry and humble guys.