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Harpring closing out storied career with few highs, many lows

When it was over, when Jan Medlock and Paul Trotti were battling Jay Heaps and Todd Singleton for loose balls, Matt Harpring sat motionless, all alone in the middle of the Georgia Tech bench.

Harpring rested his chin on his hands, and his blank stare said it all: What exactly was it that I came back for?

On an afternoon when his team trailed for 40 minutes, Harpring himself looked positively out of place. Blanketed by Duke's Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell, Harpring never got involved offensively, and by the time he took a seat with two minutes left and Tech trailing 88-68, Harpring had to wonder whether staying in school for his senior year was really worth it.

A surefire first-round NBA draft pick, Harpring could have foregone his final season and bolted to greener pastures, a move nearly everyone expected after a disastrous 9-18 junior campaign.

But Harpring bucked the trend and came back to Tech, vowing to help Bobby Cremins rebuild his program. One has to wonder if Harpring realized just how tall a task that would prove to be.

Moments after Sunday's game, in a remote corner of Cameron Indoor Stadium, Harpring slumped on a bench in the visitors' locker room, miles away from his teammates, and wearily fielded questions from an almost apologetic media.

Was there anything positive for Harpring about a 90-69 loss that dropped the Yellow Jackets to 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Anything to gain at all?

"For me personally?" Harpring asked aloud. "I don't know. I doubt it."

Harpring talked about Tech's youth and inexperience. He said he was proud of the improvement he saw in a squad which starts three freshmen. But there wasn't a trace of emotion in his voice.

All in all, Harpring seemed extremely removed from the whole situation, like he wasn't even sure he should have been there.

"It's hard to play here [in Cameron] for the first time," he said in mild defense of Tech's all-freshman backcourt, which committed 13 turnovers. "I remember my first game at Duke [a 77-70 loss on Feb. 9, 1995]."

That game seemed a long way away on Sunday, and Harpring seemed a long way from the All-ACC figure he had cut over the first three years of his career.

"Harpring's a great player," Duke's Mike Chappell said. "He's going to get his points. You just have to limit his open looks. I think we wanted to set the pace on him early... [and] make him work to get the ball."

Harpring worked his way to 19 points on Sunday, but he never seemed to find a groove. Perhaps fittingly, he came up exactly one point short of the 20 he needed to catch James Forrest for sixth on the Tech career-scoring list.

Eventually, Harpring will top the 2,000-point mark for his career. With just eight games remaining in the regular season, Harpring would need a postseason tournament trip to get a shot at becoming Tech's all-time leading scorer. He could conceivably do it if the Yellow Jackets play their way into the NIT.

But individual pursuits are all that remain for Harpring, who seems a stowaway on a ship he was supposed to be captaining. It's an anticlimactic end to one of the ACC's best all-around career performances.


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