Jackets Begin Home Stretch with Wake Forest

Feb. 20, 2007

ATLANTA –

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Having won four of its last five games, Georgia Tech returns home for three of its last four regular season games, beginning with Wake Forest Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets then finish their slate against the top three teams in the current ACC standings, including a road trip Saturday to Virginia Saturday and visits from North Carolina and Boston College next week.

Wednesday’s game is being broadcast on ESPNU, the last of three appearances on ESPN’s all-college sports channel. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network and heard locally on WQXI-AM (790), WREK-FM (91.1) and WTSH-FM (107.1). A broadcast of the game can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 191.

Tech is 17-9 overall, 5-7 in the ACC, following Sunday’s 71-62 loss at Duke. The Jackets had won four in a row before that against Clemson, NC State, Connecticut and Florida State. The overall mark is a six-win improvement over last year’s record and a game better at this point than the 2004-05 team that reached the finals of the ACC Tournament and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Wake Forest, 13-13 overall and 4-9 in the ACC, has reached the .500 mark for the first time since Jan. 21 by winning four ot its last five games. The Demon Deacons, who defeated Tech in Winston-Salem on Jan. 30, bring a two-game winning streak to Atlanta after victories last week over Clemson and Miami.

Series vs. Wake Forest

> Wake Forest leads the overall series with Georgia Tech, 33-28, having won seven of the last 10 meetings and 12 of the last 17. The teams have split their regular-season meetings the last three years.

> Earlier this season: Wake Forest went on a 17-3 run to close out the first half, and Kyle Visser scored 26 points to lead the Demon Deacons past Tech, 85-75, on Jan. 30 in Winston-Salem. Four Tech players scored in dobule figures, led by Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey with 14 apiece.

> The home team has won 22 of the last 29 regular-season games in the series, with Wake Forest winning four times at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in that span, and Tech winning three times in Winston-Salem.

> Tech is 25-22 against Wake Forest since 1985, including 12 straight victories from 1985-91.

> Tech is 5-9 against Wake Forest under head coach Paul Hewitt. The Jackets are 4-8 against Skip Prosser-coached Wake Forest teams.

> Tech is 19-9 in games played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, including the last two meetings. The Demon Deacons had won the last two meetings in Atlanta and three of the last five before that.

Market Fluctuation

Georgia Tech has seen its season cycle up and down like the stock market, with its fortunes tied primarily to defense. Prior to Sunday’s 71-62 loss at Duke, the Yellow Jackets had won four straight games, which followed a streak of four straight losses, which followed a string of seven wins in eight games.

Tech is tied with Clemson for seventh place in the ACC standings with four games remaining in conference play, three of which come against teams ahead of it in the standings. Only one of those teams (North Carolina) is ranked in the AP top 25. At 5-7, Tech is in a group of three teams with five conference wins (Clemson and FSU).

The Yellow Jackets began the season with five straight wins, including wins over Purdue and No. 11 Memphis in the first two rounds of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational. Then came three losses in the next four games to UCLA (Maui championship game), Miami and Vanderbilt as Tech approached fall semester final exams.

Coming out of finals, Tech won seven of its next eight games, including homecourt wins over state-rival Georgia, 11th-ranked Duke and Florida State, playing with renewed vigor on the defensive end of the floor. Tech’s most recent four-game winning streak was built on the same defensive energy, as the Jackets gave up just 59 points a game.

Quick Look at Tech

Georgia Tech has utilized the same starting lineup for its last five games, led by freshmen Javaris Crittenton at the point guard spot and Thaddeus Young at the samll forward. Juniors Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey have filled the off-guard, big forward and center positions.

Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, is the trigger man, averaging 14.3 points (16th in the ACC) as well as 5.4 assists per game (third in the ACC), while hitting better than 40 percent of his three-point field goal tries. Crittenton has averaged a team-high 16.1 points in Tech’s ACC games (7th in the ACC), has played an average of 34.6 minutes in those games and tops ACC freshmen in scoring and steals in league games.

Young, a 6-8 small forward, has been around the team lead in scoring nearly all season, currently second at 13.6 points per game (18th in the ACC). The Memphis, Tenn., native has averaged 12.8 points in Tech’s ACC games in 2007, and has made 47.6 percent of his shots from the floor in conference play.

Tech’s inside game is carried by two veterans in Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-10 junior from Clio, S.C., and Jeremis Smith, a 6-8 junior from Fort Worth, Texas. Smith, the only Tech player to start every game this season, gives Tech some muscle inside on defense and on the boards, averaging 8.6 points and a team-high 5.6 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (58.7 percent) and has 12 double-digit scoring efforts.

Since returning to the starting lineup for the Centenary game on Dec. 18, Dickey has posted eight double-figure efforts and has made 62.5 percent of his field goal attempts in ACC games (57.9 percent overall). Dickey averages 8.0 points and 5.4 rebounds overall this season.

Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 junior who has reached double figures in 11 of Tech’s last 14 games, has started the last five since Feb. 3 against Clemson. The Charlotte, N.C., native has averaged 10.5 points in ACC games, third-best on the team, and 9.4 points per game for the season.

Off the bench, Mario West, a 6-5 senior guard from Douglasville, Ga. (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.7 steals), has been the Jackets’ catalyst on defense and logged important backup minutes at point guard, and has come through on the offensive end in three of Tech’s bigger wins this season. Tech has gotten a big lift in its last five games from 6-10 post player Alade Aminu, a sophomore from Stone Mountain, who has averaged 5.2 points over that stretch after not having appeared in any of Tech’s first eight ACC games.

Also averaging double-digit minutes is 6-8 freshman Zach Peacock of Miami, who started the first nine games of the season and averages 6.0 points and 3.2 rebounds as Tech’s backup center and power forward, and 6-5 sophomore D’Andre Bell of Los Angeles, who gave Tech a spark in the last four games with excellent defense and 4.3 points a game. Red-shirt freshman Mouhammad Faye, a 6-10 forward from Dakar, Senegal, who has started eight games, has averaged 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds this season, but his biggest contributions come on defense, where his 7-foot-3 wingspan has caused havoc in Tech’s press and in halfcourt defensive situations.

Tech and the Three

Georgia Tech ranks sixth in the ACC currently in most three-point field goals made per game overall (6.3) and fourth in three-point percentage (36.9 pct.). That said, Tech is 9-2 this year in games in which it has tried 15 or FEWER three-point shots.

In its most recent five games, Tech tried only 57 threes combined (out of 277 FG attempts in four games). For the season, 29.0 percent of Tech’s field goal attempts have come from behind the three-point line, nearly a five-percent increase over last season. Only 24.8 percent of Tech’s field goal tries (and just 23 percent of its points) last season came from behind the three-point line, by far the low-water mark for the Yellow Jackets under Paul Hewitt. However, Tech’s season accuracy rate of 38.6 percent (41.4 pct. in ACC games) was its best mark under its current head coach.

Youth Being Served

Georgia Tech’s freshmen have combined to score 38.1 points per game this season, ninth highest in ACC history and the second highest figure in Tech history behind the 1982-83 group which included Mark Price and John Salley (44.8).

Tech has started more freshmen this season (67) than any team in the ACC except North Carolina (76) and Wake Forest (73). The Jackets have started three freshmen in 15 of their 26 games this season, and has started fewer seniors this year (3) than any team except Duke (0).

Javaris Crittenton (14.3 per game) and Thaddeus Young (13.6) and rank third and fourth among the ACC’s freshmen in scoring. Crittenton is second among first-year players in assist average (5.4), first in steals (2.15) and second in free throw percentage (78.3 pct.), while Young is second in field goal percentage (48.2 pct.) and sixth in rebounds (4.9).

Crittenton Making Case for Rookie of the Year

Freshman Javaris Crittenton has effectively taken over the Yellow Jackets’ floor leadership of late, was been the catalyst in Tech’s four-game winning streak.

The 6-5 freshman averaged 22.3 points in Tech’s four-game winning streak, most recently carrying the Jackets with 29 points in their 63-57 win at Florida State last Tuesday night. Crittenton also scored 26 points against Clemson, then a career-best and 21 against NC State. The Atlanta native also averaged 5.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds, taken 13 steals and gone 22-for-25 at the free throw line.

Crittenton also put together a three-game stretch of ACC games against Clemson, Duke and Florida State in early January in which he averaged 18.7 points (59.4 pct. FG) and 5.3 assists. Tech defeated Duke and FSU and lost to Clemson on a last-second shot.

> Currently, IN ACC GAMES ONLY, Crittenton is the highest-ranked freshman in scoring (16.1 ppg) and steals (2.33 per game), and No. 2 in assists (4.58 per game), free throw percentage (85.4 pct.). He is third in field goal percentage (45 pct.).

> Five of Crittenton’s six 20-point games this season have come in ACC games (the other was Purdue on Maui), and Tech has won five of those six games.

Slow Starting Jackets

Sunday’s game at Duke was the latest in a string of slow starts for the Yellow Jackets this year. Tech, which turned the ball over 16 times in the first half (22 for the game), fell behind by as many as 17 points before closing the period down 41-26. The deficit proved too big as the Jackets could get no closer than five down the stretch, a story that has played out in several losses.

Even in some of its its victories, Georgia Tech has not been immune to falling behind early in its ACC games in 2007. In the first half of those games, the Yellow Jackets have spotted leads of 15 to NC State, 11 to Wake Forest, nine to Virginia Tech, 17 to Maryland, 11 to North Carolina, eight (first meeting) and five (second meeting) to Florida State, eight (first meeting) and 17 (second meeting) to Duke and six in the first meeting with Clemson. Tech also fell behind in the first half of wins over Purdue (7) and Memphis (19) in November.

Tech has averaged 40.1 points in the second half of its ACC games this year, just 31.8 percent before intermission. The Jackets also shoot 48.6 percent from the floor in the second half, compared with 45.5 percent in the first. Turnover numbers show a similar dramatic improvement after intermission, 6.1 per game compared with 9.8 in the first half.

Quoting head coach Paul Hewitt

On the ACC’s overall strength and how that might be reflected when NCAA Tournament bids are made – “I felt coming into the year that the league is the deepest it’s been in my seven years (at Georgia Tech). I felt that there were nine teams that legitimately could end up in the NCAA Tournament. How it’s going to be viewed come Selection Sunday, I really don’t know. I’ve always said that I don’t think people really factor in the wear and tear, and the grind the league takes on the players, how hard-fought all the games are, how physical the games are. By the end of the year, there’s always going to be an injury, or a team or player wearing down. People outside the league don’t have an appreciation for how hard that can be.

“No question (that has been overlooked). If you talk to coaches who come from outside the league, they have a greater appreciation for how hard it is. It’s not just a single game. It’s the overall grind of the ACC that usually gets you, because all the games are well-attended, with a high-intensity atmosphere. It wears you down.”

On Javaris Crittenton’s performance as a freshman point guard – “I saw him play in ninth grade. He’s a terrific athlete, a big, strong kid. He’s very competitive, always looking to learn. He’s always in the office watching tape, and that serves him well. There are still things he has to learn, but his athleticism and his drive allow him to be successful as a freshman here.”

Are Sunday games tougher in that grind – “Yes, especially Sunday night games. The Sunday afternoon games are not that bad. Our kids were back in their dorm rooms by 8:30 last night (after playing Duke in Durham Sunday afternoon). But the Sunday night games really set you back.”

Did you realize how strong this freshman class would be when you were recruiting them? – “When I went out, I felt this was one of the strongest classes I had seen since maybe the class that had Rasheed Wallace and the kids from Philadelphia, Jason Lawson and Alvin Williams, that we had at Villanova.”

On how Javaris Crittenton’s game has evolved – “He’s getting smarter, he’s picking his spots better, and he’s getting a better feel for the offense. As I’ve told people, sometimes his competitiveness can get the better of him. He’s a little overly aggressive sometimes, but he’s getting a better feel for when to take a chance and when not to. He’s having a great year; I’m very happy with his progress.”

On controversy regarding what quality wins mean and how teams make the NCAA Tournament – “What yields to controversy in my mind is that we need to expand the tournament. I’m not one of these guys who wants 128. But at the very least we should add three more teams and have three more play-in games. I don’t want to take anything away from those other teams, but there are more kids playing basketball. There’s more talent, more parity.

“That said, taking nothing away from those other programs in those other conferences, if you pluck one of those teams and dropped them in the middle of the ACC and tell them to go play 16 games in this league, you’re going to get different results. It’s hard. People don’t understand just how tough this league is. It truly is, in my mind. I had a year in the Pac-10 and five years in the Big East. Game-to-game, this is the hardest league I’ve been around.”

On Thaddeus Young’s recent play – “His point production may have declined, but I see other things improving. He had six assists yesterday at Duke. He’s defending very well. Thaddeus is a complete, all-around player. I, like everyone else, would like to see him take a little more initiative in scoring. But at the same time, he’s a very good all-around player, and he’s having a very good freshman year.”

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