Tech Closes Regular Season at Home Against Clemson

March 4, 2005

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech plays its final game of the regular season and five senior players will play their final home game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. when the Yellow Jackets entertain Clemson.

The game will be regionally televised on the ACC’s Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot Network, and air in Atlanta on WATL-TV (WB36). Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Network, and can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790), as well as nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 191.

There is much at stake for the Yellow Jackets (16-10, 7-8 ACC), who enter the final weekend of the season in a four-way tie for fourth place in the ACC standings with Maryland, Virginia Tech and NC State. The top five seeds avoid playing on Thursday in the ACC Tournament, and the No. 4 and 5 seeds play each other at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 11.

A win over Clemson would ensure Tech a tie for fourth in the final standings with either Maryland or Virginia Tech, who meet at 4 p.m. on Saturday. NC State must defeat Wake Forest Sunday to stay in that group. The Jackets lose a tie-breaker with all three teams, meaning that even with a victory Saturday, they could wind up with a No. 6 seed if the Wolfpack upset the Demon Deacons. A Tech win and an NC State loss will put Tech in the 4-5 game Friday.

A loss to Clemson Saturday means Tech would wind up in a tie for sixth with either Maryland or Virginia Tech, Miami, with whom the Jackets win the tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep of the Hurricanes, and possibly NC State. A Wolfpack win over Wake Forest would then give them a tie for fourth and a date with wither the Terps or Hokies in the 4-5 game Friday. A Wolfpack loss and a Tech loss would create a four-way tie for fifth place at 7-9, leaving either Maryland or Virginia Tech alone in fourth place at 8-8.

Tech, which lost 98-91 at No. 4 Wake Forest Wednesday night, has not been able to put together two straight wins since opening the ACC slate with victories over Miami and Virginia in early January, and the Jackets have alternated wins and losses since their 102-101 triumph over the Demon Deacons on Jan. 27.

Clemson (15-13, 5-10 ACC) has won three straight games entering the final weekend, having rallied to beat Virginia Tech, 66-64, Tuesday night, after victories over Maryland and Florida State.

> Tech has played several close games since Jan. 1, beginning with a two-point overtime loss at Kansas. The Jackets’ last five ACC wins have been achieved by a total of 17 points, four of those on the game’s final possession. Tech’s last six games have been decided by eight points or less, and eight of the last 11 by four points or less.

> Tech ranks second in the ACC in scoring defense (66.7 ppg), and first in field goal percentage defense (38.7 pct.) and three-point defense (31.1 pct.), and also rates seventh, third and fourth in the league in those categories for ACC games only.

> Tech has been inconsistent offensively, however, scoring more than 76 points only twice in its last 13 games (two games with Wake Forest are the exceptions). The Yellow Jackets have, however, averaged 75 points in their last four games, and have exceeded 40 points in a half five times in six games.

> The Yellow Jackets, who have had all 14 of their players dressed and available for only seven games all season, welcomed back senior guard B.J. Elder (missed the first nine ACC games with a left hamstring strain) and freshman forward Jeremis Smith (missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap) on Feb. 8 at Clemson. Elder has averaged 11.6 points in his four games back on the court, while Smith has averaged 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds off the bench.

FROM 0-7 IN ACC TO NATIONAL TITLE GAME

Georgia Tech’s five senior players who are playing their final home game Saturday against Clemson have been to the bottom and the pinnacle of college basketball during their careers.

As freshmen, B.J. Elder, Isma’il Muhammad, Anthony McHenry and Luke Schenscher lost home games to Penn, Tulane and IUPUI in the pre-conference schedule and started the ACC schedule 0-7. But they fought back by winning seven of their last nine conference games that year and came within one victory of an NIT bid. They helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 16-15 mark as sophomores and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT, setting the stage for last year’s storybook season.

Last season, with Will Bynum joining the group, Tech won the Preseason NIT, defeating top-ranked Connecticut in the process, scored ACC road wins at Duke and Wake Forest, and eventually played for the national championship against the same Huskies team, a level never before achieved in basketball at Tech.

By the numbers, Tech’s seniors have forged a 75-51 overall record with two post-season appearances to this point, and were part of a team that was nationally ranked for 30 consecutive weeks, the second longest run in Tech basketball history.

Saturday, they will be honored in a pre-game ceremony with their families present. Even Luke Schenscher’s mother, Barbara, will be here all the way from Hope Forest, Australia.

CREMINS TO BROADCAST FIRST TECH GAME

Bobby Cremins, who coached the Yellow Jackets for 19 seasons prior to the arrival of Paul Hewitt, will broadcast his first Georgia Tech game for television Saturday against Clemson, on the court which bears his name.

Cremins won 354 games for Tech, led the Yellow Jackets to three ACC championships (1985, 1990, 1993), two regular season ACC titles (1985, 1996), 10 NCAA tournaments and one Final Four during his illustrious career on the Flats. Since his retirement from Tech, Cremins has been keeping busy during basketball season serving as an analyst on ACC games for Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot, as well as other games around the Southeast for FSN South and CSS.

The court at Alexander Memorial Coliseum was dedicated in his name two years ago on Mar. 8, following a 66-56 Tech win over Clemson.

A CASE FOR THE JACKETS IN POST-SEASON

With six games under its belt since the return of senior guard B.J. Elder and freshman forward Jeremis Smith, Georgia Tech is beginning to demonstrate what it might have achieved over this season with a full roster, and what it could achieve in future games.

Elder missed 10 games with a hamstring injury (counting the overtime loss at No. 2 Kansas, in which he played just seven minutes), during which the Yellow Jackets went 4-6. Smith, arguably the Yellow Jackets’ best freshman early in the season before he dislocated his kneecap in the third game, missed 17 games altogether. Both returned on Feb. 8 at Clemson.

Since then, Tech is 3-3, with two of those losses coming to teams ranked No. 4 (Wake Forest) and No. 7 (Duke). The three losses combined were by a total of 13 points.

Offensively, Tech has averaged 78.2 points in the four road games played during the six-game period. Tech won three of those games, and led by double-digits in the second half of the other at No. 4 Wake Forest. Tech has shot 48.4 percent on those four road games, 39.8 percent from three-point range, and 76.5 percent from the foul line, while averaging 16 assists and 15 turnovers.

Tech has shot 46.1 percent from the floor for the six games and 33.3 percent from three-point range, almost identical to its full-season numbers. While both players were out, Tech was 43.6 percent from the floor, 31.1 percent from three-point range. Tech is also shooting free throws better, 72.1 percent compared to 68.3 for the season.

Tech has also seen its key players produce at a higher level statistically than they did while Elder and Smith were both out. To wit:

> Point guard Jarrett Jack has averaged 17.8 points in those six games, shot 52.8 percent from the floor, 43.8 percent from three-point range and 88.9 percent from the foul line, as well as 5.0 assists per game, numbers which exceed his total season norms.

> Center Luke Schenscher has had more room to operate. He has averaged 12.0 points, shot 60.9 percent from the floor and is 16-of-25 from the foul line (4.1 FT per game), all well above his full-season averages. An excellent passer out of the post, Schenscher also has 12 assists in the six games.

> For his own part, Elder has averaged 13.3 points since returning (13.2 before getting hurt), and is 15-for-43 from three-point range (34.9 percent).

> Tech has played teams even on the boards, largely because Smith has averaged 5.0 rebounds since returning, 7.3 over his last three games. Smith, also an excellent passer, has nine assists and just four turnovers (7 and 1 in the last three games).

Tech has also continued to play superior defense during the period. Tech has allowed just 70 points a game in the six games since Elder and Smith returned (64.4 ppg with Wake Forest removed), compared to 76.8 points over the 10 games while both players were sidelined. Tech has defended the three-point shot better since Elder and Smith returned, 32.5 percent compared to 35.3 percent while they both were out.

Tech continues to lead the ACC in both field goal defense (38.7 pct.) and three-point defense (31.1 pct.).

QUICK LOOK AT TECH

B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.) returned to the starting lineup for Tech’s last four games. He responded by scoring 16 of Tech’s first 30 points (including four threes), and finished with a game-high 22 at FSU, including the game-winning free throws with 0.4 seconds showing on the clock. Elder has averaged 13.3 points in six games since returning to the court at Clemson on Feb. 8. The 6-4 senior is averaging 13.2 for the season, shooting 41.5 percent from the floor and 36.9 percent from the three-point line.

He will be joined in the starting lineup for Clemson by Tech’s four other seniors in 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 11.8 points and 2.5 assists per game.

Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and third in blocked shots (1.92 per game), scored a season-high 18 points at Wake Forest Wednesday and has averaged 12.0 points and shot 60.9 percent from the floor in the last six games. Muhammad, who had averaged 12.0 points over a nine-game stretch, has battled a chronic patellar tendonitis condition in his right knee and has averaged just 3.5 points over the last four games. Bynum, a 6-0 junior from Chicago, Ill., who started every ACC game before FSU on Feb. 20, has been a key contributor in each of Tech’s last four road games.

Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), Tech’s 6-3 junior point guard who has started all 95 games of his career to this point, will take a back seat Saturday to his senior teammates. A mid-season candidate for the Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award, Jack ranks 10th in the ACC in scoring (15.8 ppg), fifth in assists (4.62 per game), fifth in field goal percentage (51.3), third in three-point percentage (42.2) and third in free throw percentage (88.7). He scored 21 points to lead Tech to victory at Miami, and has averaged 17.8 points over his last six games.

Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap, has averaged 3.2 points and 5.0 rebounds in six games since his return on Feb. 8. He has averaged 7.3 rebounds in Tech’s last three games, leading the Jackets in two of those.

Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., has averaged almost 11 minutes in ACC games, mostly on his defensive prowess, but gave Tech a lift off the bench offensively in games against Maryland, Florida State (career-high 10 points) and Duke.

Tech’s other freshmen, 6-9 center Ra’Sean Dickey (Clio, S.C.) and 6-5 wingman Anthony Morrow (Charlotte, N.C.) have taken on more importance since mid-December. Each scored 12 points in Tech’s win at Miami. Morrow has made 38.8 percent of his three-pointers this season overall and has six double-figure games off the bench. Dickey, who has shot 63.9 percent from the floor to lead the team (66.7 pct. in ACC games), entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center.

SERIES NOTES VS. CLEMSON

> Overall, Tech holds a 54-50 lead in a series that began in 1913. It is the oldest and longest-running series the Yellow Jackets have with an ACC member. The 104 all-time meetings are 28 more than Tech has played with any other ACC member.

> Tech has won four straight games and eight of the last 10 in the series. But the Yellow Jackets trail 27-26 since joining the ACC. The home team has won 28 of the last 36 regular-season meetings.

> Earlier this season: Tech secured its first road win in the ACC with a 70-62 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum on Feb. 8, overcoming 24 turnovers by shooting 57.8 percent from the floor and outscoring the Tigers 43-27 in the second half. Jarrett Jack scored 16 points to lead five Tech players in double figures, including 11 from B.J. Elder, playing his first game since Jan. 1.

> Tech and Clemson have split their season series 14 times in the last 17 years. The Jackets swept the season series from the Tigers in 2000-01 and in 2003-04. Clemson earned a sweep in the 1996-97 season.

> The Yellow Jackets have won seven of the nine games between the two teams since Paul Hewitt became Tech’s head coach, with a 3-1 record at home and a 4-1 mark at Clemson. Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell is 0-3 vs. Tech.

> Tech has an all-time record of 37-17 against the Tigers at home, including 23-12 record at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Clemson won the 2001-02 game in Atlanta, 83-76, but the Jackets won the previous four meetings in the Thrillerdome and have won 17 of 22 against the Tigers at home since 1983.

WALKING A TIGHTROPE

Eight of Tech’s last 11 games have been decided by seven points or less, and Tech is 4-4 in those games. The Yellow Jackets have not won a game by more than eight points since Virginia on Jan. 8.

Tech has lost three conference games at home this season (Virginia Tech, NC State, Duke) by a total of seven points. By the same token, Tech has achieved its last five ACC wins (Wake Forest at home, FSU home and away, Clemson on the road, Miami on the road) by a total of 17 points. All of those games went down to the final possession.

Tech has won many of its games this season by coming out aggressively and taking the lead early. Tech has followed that pattern for the most part in all of its ACC victories, taking large leads early, then either winning big (home wins over Miami and Virginia), or watching those leads disappear and then pulling it out at the end (Wake Forest, Florida State twice). Tech also lost at Wake Forest Wednesday night after holding an 11-point lead in the second half.

Clemson and Miami are the only games in which Tech has overcome significant deficits to win. The Yellow Jackets trailed at the half by eight at Clemson, then at Miami trailed by 10 in the first half and 11 in the second half.

> Trailing 59-51 at the 8-minute mark at Miami on Feb. 26, Tech scored the next 12 points and never trailed again, then sealed the win by making 10 of 11 free throws in the final 2 1/2 minutes.

> The Yellow Jackets led 71-59 with 7:09 remaining at Florida State, but watched the entire lead disappear as Al Thornton’s jumper over Luke Schenscher dropped in for a 75-74 Seminole lead with 9.7 seconds left. On Tech’s last possesson, B.J. Elder wound up with the ball after Jarrett Jack almost lost it out of bounds, was fouled with 0.4 seconds left and made both free throws for the 76-75 victory.

> Against Wake Forest on Jan. 27, Tech led by as many as 17 in the first half and 14 in the second half, lost the entire lead by the final minute and survived a layup attempt by Chris Paul at the end of regulation to force overtime. In OT, Jack was fouled with four seconds on the clock, and made both free throws to give Tech a 102-101 lead. Paul’s last shot missed.

> In Tech’s first meeting with Florida State, Tech outscored the Seminoles 27-9 over the first 10 minutes of the second half in building a 12-point lead. FSU pulled even at 61-all in the final minute, but Will Bynum sank a three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left for the 64-61 victory.

> Even against Miami in its conference opener, Tech saw a 46-32 halftime lead evaporate to one in the second half, but responded with its own run and won 80-69.

OFFENSE BETTER ON THE ROAD

Georgia Tech has had its difficulties on offense since its 2-0 start in conference play. Take out Tech’s two games with Wake Forest, and the Yellow Jackets have averaged 69.8 points against the league this season.

But things have looked up over Tech’s last six games since the return of B.J. Elder and Jeremis Smith. Tech has shot 46.1 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from three-point range in that stretch, numbers nearly identical to those for its season as a whole and significantly better than its conference averages. The Jackets have also made 72.1 percent from the line in those six games.

Tech also has scored more than 40 points in a half five times, shot 48 percent or better in three of those games, and 40 percent or better from three-point range four times.

Tech has shot 38.9 percent from three-point range (21-for-54) in its last two games, its 21 threes matching the Jackets total for the six games prior to that.

One of the oddities of the recent games, however, is that Tech has produced its poorest offensive games at home in losses to NC State (53-51) and Duke (60-56), while posting four of its better games on the road against Clemson (70-62), Florida State (76-75), Miami (76-72) and Wake Forest, a 98-91 loss.

Tech shot 48.4 percent, 39.8 percent from three-point range, in the four road games, while also making 76.5 percent of its free throws. In the two home games, the Yellow Jackets shot just 40.8 percent overall, and were 1-for-19 from behind the arc.

JACK, SCHENSCHER CONSTANT IN RECENT GAMES

Jarrett Jack and Luke Schenscher have been the most consistent players for Georgia Tech offensively over the last several games, even as the Yellow Jackets have struggled to maintain consistency as a whole.

Jack has averaged 17.8 points over his last seven games, all double-figure efforts, beginning with the first Duke game on Feb. 5. He has scored 20 or more in the last three games against Duke, Miami and Wake Forest. He scored 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting in the last meeting with Duke, and 21 on 7-of-12 shooting Feb. 26 at Miami, and 23 on 8-of-15 shooting at Wake Forest.

During the six-game period, Jack is shooting 52.8 percent (38-of-72) from the floor during the period, 43.8 percent (7-of-16) from three-point range, and 88.9 percent (24-for-27) from the foul line. He has averaged 5.0 assists, better than his season average.

Schenscher has drawn plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but he has overcome the extra burden. The 7-1 senior has averaged 12.0 points over the same period of games, and shot 60.9 percent from the floor and gone 16-for-25 (64 percent) from the foul line.

Against the ACC’s two other highly-regarded centers, Shelden Williams of Duke and Eric Williams of Wake Forest, Schenscher has held his own, scoring 16 points (7-14 FG) with five rebounds against Duke on Feb. 23, and a season-high 18 points with nine boards Wednesday against Wake Forest.

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