Starting Five: Jackets Host Mercer on Friday

Dec. 30, 2010

By Jon Cooper
Sing Daily

TECH LEADING SCORER: Iman Shumpert, 14.7 ppg
MERCER LEADING SCORER: Jeff Smith, 14.1 ppg

TECH LEADING REBOUNDER: Daniel Miller, 5.6 rpg
MERCER LEADING REBOUNDER: Brian Mills, Brandon Moore, 6.1 rpg.

TECH PPG: 68.5 ppg.
OPP. PPG: 63.7 ppg.

MERCER PPG: 64.6 ppg.
OPP. PPG: 70.5 ppg.

Mercer Player to Watch: Jeff Smith: The 6-2, 185-pound native of Huntsville, Ala., is one of the most explosive talents in the Atlantic Sun Conference, last season ranking in the top 20 in scoring and in the top 10 in assists and three-point field goal percentage. This season he’s struggled some from the field, but is still ninth in the Atlantic Sun in scoring and eighth in assists (3.55 apg), while logging the 11th-most minutes in the conference (30.64 minutes per game).

Georgia Tech looks to bid a fond farewell to 2010 and earn Head Coach Paul Hewitt the 250th win of his coaching career when they host Mercer this afternoon at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Tip-off is at 1:00 p.m.

Thanks to stormy weather, which forced cancellation of their scheduled Monday afternoon game against Fordham, the Yellow Jackets haven’t played in nine days since dropping a 62-57 decision at Siena, That loss snapped a two-game winning streak and dropped the team to 0-3 on the road. But they have been a different team at home, as evidenced by their 4-1 home record.

The Bears are winless on the road in five tries and have lost five of their last six games overall. They, too, should be in a foul mood from their last game, as they have had eight days to sit on a 56-53 home loss to Georgia. In that game, Mercer led 48-37 with 8:32 to play before allowing UGA a 19-5 run to close and steal the game.

The Georgia Tech-Mercer series is the most commonly played outside the ACC and SEC, as the teams have met 43 times. Tech holds a 27-16 lead in the series, has won eight straight meetings and 16 of 23 at Thrillerdome.

Today’s game will not be televised but can be heard on the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network’s flagship stations WQXI-AM (790 the Zone) and WYAY (106.7 FM). Wes Durham and Randy Waters call the action. Fans also can follow the game on Ramblinwreck.com.

Here now, the starting five for today’s game.

Not As Easy As It Looked: This is the third straight year that Georgia Tech and Mercer are meeting in the schools’ latest series and while the Yellow Jackets are 2-0, it could very well be the other way around or the series could at least be split. Two years ago at University Center in Macon, the Yellow Jackets trailed the Bears, 58-40, eight minutes into the second half. But Gani Lawal, Zachery Peacock and Iman Shumpert combined for 27 of Tech’s game-closing 29-11 charge and Peacock’s two foul shots with :33 seconds remaining sent the game to overtime. Tech scored the first six points of the extra session and Moe Miller’s lay-up with 3:09 left proved to be the winning points in the 82-76 victory. Last season was another battle, until Brian Oliver and Mfon Udofia combined for 18 points in a second-half 25-11 run that turned a two-point game into a routine 85-74 win by the 25th-ranked Jackets at AMC.

That 70s Show: Georgia Tech has shown significant improvement at the foul line, a facet of their game that could will bode well heading into ACC play. The Jackets are converting 72.6 percent of their FTAs (164-of-226). That would be the best percentage of any Yellow Jackets team in the Paul Hewitt era, as only the 2007-08 team shot as high as 70 percent from the line. Four players are shooting over 75 percent from the line — Moe Miller (96.4, tops in the ACC), Iman Shumpert (86.4, seventh in the conference), Brian Oliver (83.3) and Jason Morris (76.5). Glen Rice Jr., also is over 70 percent (71.4).

The (Non-Conference) End of an Era: Today’s game is Georgia Tech’s final non-conference game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Since the beginning of the 1981-82 season, the Jackets have been almost invincible in non-conference home games, winning 175 of 189 games, a 92.6 winning percentage. In that time, only three visiting teams have managed to win more than once at AMC (Penn State, UIC, and Georgia), and only six teams — Richmond in 1987, Louisville in ’89, College of Charleston in ’93 and Penn, Tulane, and IUPUI in 2001-02 — have managed to come out of Atlanta with a ‘W.’

After You, No, After YOU: Unselfishness has been a theme with in the Paul Hewitt era and Georgia Tech is living up to that standard this season. The Jackets have chalked up assists on 56.6 percent of their baskets. That’s right on par with their average under Hewitt (56.2 percent) but is up from last season (53.6). Four different players have at least 20 assists thus far, and the leader might surprise you. It’s Glen Rice, Jr., who has doled out 33 helpers. Shumpert is next (32), then Moe Miller (28) and Oliver 21. Starting point Mfon Udofia is only six away from joining the club, as he enters today with 14. Senior Lance Storrs (8) follows Udofia.

Give AND Take: Georgia Tech is averaging 10.0 steals per game, that’s tied for 12th in the nation and tops the ACC (Duke also has 110 steals but has played one more game). Shumpert’s 2.64 steals lead the ACC and are up from his 1.9 spg last year (second in the conference). The Yellow Jackets feature five players in the top 16 in the conference in steals, as Moe Miller and Rice tie for 11th with 1.36 spg, and Daniel Miller and Udofia are tied for 16th (1.27 spg).

The Sixth Man: Daniel Miller has become a force on the glass and has taken over the team lead in rebounds. In the four games since being shutout against Northwestern on Nov. 30, the freshman has grabbed 34 rebounds (8.5 rpg), including a career-high 10 against Siena. He’s also matched his career-best three offensive rebounds in two of the team’s past three games.

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