It was a little thing but it spoke volumes about Georgia Tech's Brian Oliver and his performance in Saturday's 83-72 victory over Duke.
Tech had just taken a 58-54 lead on a 3-point shot by Dennis Scott and the Jackets seemed to be within reach of stealing all the momentum with just over eight minutes to play.Duke's Phil Henderson, who had been bombing the Yellow Jackets from outside all afternoon, took two dribbles toward the top of the key and started his smooth leap for a jump shot.
Oliver reached in.
The slap could be heard 10 rows back in the packed Charlotte Coliseum.
Oliver pulled his hand back like a kid caught in the cookie jar. He rolled his eyes ceilingward and walked to the sideline shaking his head.
He didn't look at the bench.
``I knew what was there,' he said. ``I've seen that look on Coach's face too many times.
``I was upset with myself because I knew I had made a big mistake. We had just gotten the lead and there I was giving them two points. I knew what he (Bobby Cremins) was going to say if I looked over there.'
Instead, Oliver turned the game into his own special stage.
The 6-foot-4 senior scored 11 of Tech's next 14 points, giving the Jackets a 74-63 lead and, ultimately, a spot in this afternoon's ACC title game against Virginia.
Perhaps Duke's Mike Krzyzewski summed it up best when he said his team didn't have anyone like Oliver who, he said, ``was there for the duration.'
Oliver played 40 of the hardest minutes of his career. He hit jump shots, drove the lane, made free throws, rebounded, defended.
In short, he did all the things he's been doing during a four-year career that has earned him a special place in Cremins' heart.
Cremins has a fondness for hard-nosed players like Bruce Dalrymple and Oliver.
He won an ACC championship with Dalrymple in 1985.
When Oliver takes the floor this afternoon, he will be plowing new ground in his career and will be within reach of a goal.
``This is our biggest win of the year,' said Oliver who, like Scott, scored 31 points. ``We're within one game of the ACC championship and a chance to go on to the Final Four.
``That's what we've wanted all along.'
In recent games, Oliver has wanted it more than anyone.
Since a two-point loss at North Carolina in the next to last game of the regular season, Oliver has scored 87 points, an average of 29 per game. That's eight more than Scott, who leads the ACC in scoring.
Oliver hasn't been out of double figures since the 14th game of the season. And that is his only game with less than 10.
In his last seven games, he has averaged better than seven rebounds a game, including two 10-rebound and one nine-rebound effort.
It's as though he can see the end of his career just ahead and he wants to make the most of every precious minute.
``It gets to the point when you want something so bad,' he said. ``That's the way I feel right now. When I have the ball, I want to go out and make something happen.
``This is a good time for us because we're coming together as a team.'
``He's the stabilizing force for them,' Krzyzewski said. ``That's something they have more than we do.'
That showed up down the stretch. Duke had no answer for Oliver, no counterpunch.
Virginia will have to find one this afternoon.
``The biggest thing we have to do is keep our intensity,' Oliver said. ``We haven't played for a championship. If that can't keep us fired up, nothing will.
``When I go out Sunday, I'll be trying to keep my guys together. We won't let up.'