My first game as a contributor to the Eight Hundred Games Project came last night when the Siena Saints visited the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
There were many choices that led to this event. The choices started months and perhaps as long as a year ago when Georgia Tech was trying to decide where to play home games while the Jackets on campus home, Alexander Memorial Coliseum, was to undergo (and is currently) a complete teardown to be renovated to modern ACC standards (save Duke). That choice was a complicated and involved such options as sharing with Georgia State and their GSU Sports Arena, or with Kennesaw State and the Convocation Center, or playing their games at the Georgia Dome. However, the choice was finally passed down in the summer that the Georgia Tech Athletics department would spurn neighborly help and play all of their non-conference guarantee games at the Gwinnett Arena, approximately twenty-seven (27) miles away from the Downtown and Midtown Atlanta campus. All of their opponents above the Red Line would play at Phillips Arena (home of the Atlanta Hawks).
Georgia Tech faced several other decisions in the lead-up to this season as well. They hired ex-Dayton head coach Brian Gregory to take over for Paul Hewitt. Hewitt had over the past few seasons recruited great talent, but never got them to play together as a team and was thus canned. No doubt they also had the decision of who to pick to play for their non-conference payout games and the pick of the date and time.
This is where things get a little puzzling. They decided to play the Siena Saints from Albany, New York the night before Thanksgiving at Gwinnett Arena, almost 40 miles from Hartsfield Jackson International Airport at seven at night. Scheduling the Saints this night of the year condemned them (unless they chartered) to an early morning flight from Atlanta back home to Albany as the last flight out was at 9:39 PM (remember the 7:00 PM tip time?). There was no way they were making that.
Why they couldn't choose a more convenient location to be accommodating the night before puzzled me greatly, but got me thinking about the sort of things programs below the Red Line have to endure to get the guarantee checks that sustain many of the non-money sports. My hope is that Georgia Tech gave them a little something extra to be here last night and this morning, because some of those Siena players are not spending Thanksgiving with their families.
The game itself was competitive for about six minutes. From then on the Jackets cruised. They did, however, miss a fantastic dunk on a breakaway about five minutes in that had me laughing (watch it on ESPN3, it was excellent). It seemed like every missed Saints three pointer (7) and turnover (5) in the first half was punished with a fast transition layup, dunk or free throw opportunity. Any Dayton fan would immediately recognize the fashion with which Georgia Tech plays: aggressive on defense, and quick passes and movement on offense to get good looks at the basket (which the Jackets had plenty of). A quick 9-2 spurt to go from 5-5 after the first media timeout to 16-7 was pretty much the turning point in the game and the Saints never got any closer than 9 the rest of the way.
After the second media timeout another thing popped out as well. Siena had only suited up nine players while Tech had fourteen. Siena was playing only seven deep with big men O.D. Anosike (wearing number 50 and not his normal 0) and Brandon Walters trying to contain the Tech big men for almost the entire game until it was readily apparent that all hope was lost. Both of these guys were absolute warriors in this game though, as both gave one hundred percent on the floor. When they were taken off by Coach Bounaguro towards the end they looked absolutely exhausted.
It dawned on me that this wasn't the first (both did it against St. Bonaventure) and wouldn't be the last time this season that each of them plays thirty-eight (Anosike) and thirty-five (Walters) this season. I couldn't help but admire the sheer determination and grit they both put in to their respective duties. Tech, for their part, kept going through its bench, running ten deep almost the entire game and even getting all of their walk-ons in the last minute. They never looking terribly tired or winded. Their speed and determination with their pressure man-to-man defense was staggering as many Siena shots were off-balanced, with many coming late in the shot clock.
In the end, the sheer number of fresh bodies that Coach Gregory could employ was too much for the Saints. Towards the five minute mark, most of the crowd had left or was in the process or leaving, as the result was beyond much doubt. The Jackets poured it on in the end, and won going away 72-44. I believe the Saints are going to struggle this year, but it won't be from lack of effort or heart. It will be because they can't compete with some teams formidable talent and depth.
at GEORGIA TECH 72, SIENA 44 11/23/2011
SIENA 2-2 (0-0) -- O. Anosike 6-12 1-3 13; B. Walters 1-9 0-2 2; K. Downey 5-14 1-2 11; E. Hymes 1-9 0-0 3; R. Poole 2-7 1-2 7; D. Beard 3-8 2-2 8; M. Hopper 0-0 0-0 0; S. Cruz 0-0 0-0 0; C. Fenlon 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-60 5-11 44. GEORGIA TECH 4-2 (0-0) -- D. Miller 3-5 0-0 6; G. Rice Jr. 10-12 1-2 23; K. Holsey 7-9 0-0 14; B. Reed 2-9 0-0 5; M. Udofia 2-7 0-0 5; J. Morris 1-6 3-4 5; P. Jordan 1-3 0-0 2; N. Hicks 1-1 0-0 2; J. Royal 2-4 2-2 6; N. Foreman 0-2 0-0 0; D. Craig 1-1 0-0 2; M. Moore 0-0 0-0 0; D. Spain 1-2 0-0 2; A. Peek 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-62 6-8 72.
Three-point goals: SIE 3-15 (B. Walters 0-1; K. Downey 0-2; C. Fenlon 0-1; E. Hymes 1-4; D. Beard 0-1; R. Poole 2-6), GT 4-16 (N. Foreman 0-1; G. Rice Jr. 2-4; M. Udofia 1-3; B. Reed 1-5; J. Morris 0-2; A. Peek 0-1); Rebounds: SIE 23 (O. Anosike 9), GT 40 (G. Rice Jr. 6); Assists: SIE 11 (E. Hymes 6), GT 13 (P. Jordan 4); Total Fouls -- SIE 10, GT 15; Fouled Out: SIE-None; GT-None.