ATLANTA – There’s something about winning at your in-state rival, no matter how much you’re favored by, that loosens up athletes and coaches. Witness Mark Fox and J.J. Frazier on Tuesday night.
During Fox’s postgame press conference, a phone on the table rang. Georgia’s head coach reached over and grabbed it.
“Whiskey! Whiskey chef!” Fox said. “Wow!”
Fox was making the name up. (Has anyone ever heard of a whiskey chef?) The embarrassed media member grabbed his phone, but also named the actual person calling him. Fox moved on.
A few minutes later Frazier, the team’s star guard, was asked what it meant for the Bulldogs to win despite Frazier and Yante Maten not having their best nights.
“Well I ain’t had a best night in about a year-and-a-half,” said Frazier, able to joke for now about what has indeed been a slow start to his senior season.
Frazier then, unprompted, went on to describe Georgia Tech as throwing a “junk defense” at him to start the game. Meaning something derogatory?
“Oh no, no,” Frazier said, not wanting to start something. “It was just something that we haven’t seen all year. I knew it was a box-and-one, but I didn’t realize it was a triangle-and-2. So it caught me off guard early in the game.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs celebrated on Tuesday night, happy with an ugly-but-effective 60-43 win, in a game they were favored to win by much less. After initially making their way to the locker room tunnel, they came back out to pose for photos while waving the red Georgia flag on the McAmish Pavilion court.
But Fox and the players were careful not to drive the knife into their rivals. The celebration on the court was relatively muted – and something they do for all road games when they win, Maten pointed out. It was respectful. No hedges or hardwood were harmed in this celebration.
There was also no revenge-for-football talk: Georgia Tech played video of its football team’s win at Georgia last month during one of the timeouts, and football players were introduced to the crowd. Paul Johnson sat courtside most of the game.
But when Fox and players were asked about the football game, it was clear it wasn’t very much on their minds. Fox was asked whether the football game had been mentioned, and Fox’s wry look and long pause said enough. And when someone kept asking about the video Georgia Tech showed, Maten said he didn’t see it, and Fox, overhearing the question, smiled and yelled out: “It was during a timeout, he was listening to me!”
Honestly, there also had to be relief: Georgia has been a better team than Georgia Tech for basically the last seven years, but the Yellow Jackets would still find ways to score the head-to-head upset. Now the Bulldogs have won the last two, including this one in McAmish Pavilion.
“It means a lot to the program,” Maten said. “We were talking about that. Making sure we went over their plays, tried to mess with their abilities to guess what we were going to do. We talked about how important this win was for us.”
That’s what it ultimately boiled down to: Georgia needed this game badly to maintain some semblance of an NCAA tournament resume’. It avoided what would have qualified as a bad loss. (Because Georgia Tech is, apparently, bad again.) And Georgia banked its first true road win, to go along with a neutral-site win over George Washington.
This upcoming stretch – at Oakland (Mich.) on Friday, then at Auburn and home against South Carolina – will tell a lot about what kind of season the Bulldogs can still have. It wasn’t a huge step forward to win at Georgia Tech. But it was a step.
They had a right to feel good about that.