Tech Hosts Penn State in ACC-Big Ten Challenge

Nov. 27, 2006

ATLANTA – Following a runner-up finish in last week’s EA SPORTS Maui Invitational, Georgia Tech returns home Tuesday night to face Penn State at 8 p.m. in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

The game is being nationally televised on ESPNU. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network, which can be heard in Atlanta in WQXI-AM (790, WREK-FM (91.1) and WTSH-FM (107.1). The broadcast can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 191.

The Yellow Jackets bring a 5-1 overall record and the nation’s No. 21 ranking in the Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the coaches poll into Tuesday night’s game. In Maui, Tech defeated Purdue, 79-61, and No. 11 Memphis, 92-85, before falling to No. 5 UCLA, 88-73, in the championship game.

Penn State is 4-1 following a 65-61 victory Friday night over St. Joseph’s.

Tech is undefeated at home, downing Elon, Jackson State and Georgia State by an average of 31.2 points. The wins improved the Jackets’ homecourt record against non-conference teams to 150-9 since the 1981-82 season. That homecourt record vs. non-conference foes includes a pair of wins in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a 62-61 comeback win over Wisconsin in 2001 and a 99-68 win over Michigan in 2004.

Tuesday marks only the second meeting between Georgia Tech and Penn State in basketball. The Nittany Lions scored a 75-70 victory over the Yellow Jackets at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in the third round of the 1998 National Invitation Tournament.

Georgia Tech is 3-4 in their previous ACC-Big Ten Challenge meetings, including an 88-86 loss at Michigan State last year. Two of those games have been played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, a 99-68 win over Michigan in 2004 and a 62-61 win over Wisconsin in 2001. Tech has also played at Ohio State (a 73-53 win in 2003), Iowa (lost 85-67 in 2000) and Minnesota (lost 64-63 in 2002), and lost an 80-77 decision to Michigan in 1999 at Philips Arena.

Tech is 15-28 all-time against the Big Ten, including a 79-61 win over Purdue last week in the first round of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational.

Since 2000, these two conferences have combined to make 13 Final Four appearances and captured four of the last seven NCAA Championships. In addition, the ACC and Big Ten rank either first or second in all-time NCAA Tournament bids, victories and Final Four appearances.

Tech’s starting lineup for the first six games has included freshman Javaris Crittenton at point guard, sophomore Lewis Clinch and freshman Thaddeus Young on the wings, junior Jeremis Smith at strong forward and freshman Zach Peacock at center.

Steadiest among the group has been sophomore Lewis Clinch, who leads the Yellow Jackets and ranks eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 17.0 points a game. Having reached double digits in each game, the 6-3 guard from Cordele, Ga., also ranks fifth in the ACC in field goal percentage (58.3) and has made 48.3 percent of his three-point tries. He made the all-tournament team in Maui, averaging 17.3 points, including 17 against No. 11 Memphis and 21 against No. 5 UCLA. The second-year guard also has improved defensively.

“He’s in the right position,” head coach Paul Hewitt said of Clinch, who has 10 steals. He’s keeping constant vision on his man and the ball when his man doesn’t have the ball. When you’re in the right position, you can anticipate the next play and get steals and deflections.”

Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, was a McDonald’s All-American his senior year at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and has averaged 14.2 points (44.4 pct. FG) and 6.0 assists. Young, a 6-8 McDonald’s All-American from Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tenn., also has averaged 14.2 points while hitting 50.8 percent of his field goal tries and pulling down 4.5 rebounds per game. Like Clinch, he has reached double figures in every game.

“No question [Crittenton] learned more than anyone (in Maui) else because he’s the point guard,” said Hewitt. “Everything goes through him, whether it’s setting the tone defensively on the ball, or making sure the offense runs properly and making good decisions. There’s no question he learned the most of anybody out there.”

Crittenton and Young were expected to start the opener, but Peacock, a 6-8 all-state performer from Norland High School in Miami, has been a surprise even to Hewitt. Peacock, demonstrating the effort and toughness Hewitt wants in the post, has averaged 9.0 points and 3.3 rebounds while making 64.7 percent of his field goals. He scored 13 against Purdue and 12 vs. UCLA out in Maui.

The other returning in Tech’s starting lineup is Jeremis Smith, a 6-8 strong forward from Fort Worth, Texas. Smith, a junior, has improved offensively and is just as tough on the boards and on defense as he was a year ago, averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (65.7 percent) and scored a season-high 21 points with nine rebounds against Memphis.

Hewitt has built plenty of depth between the returning players and the four freshmen who are playing, employing a solid nine-man rotation in the first six games.

Off the bench, four players are averaging double-digit minutes, including Ra’Sean Dickey (7.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 54.3 FG pct.), a 6-10 junior who started 20 games last year, 6-5 senior guard Mario West (4.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 75 pct. FG), 6-10 red-shirt freshman forward Mouhammad Faye (4.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and 6-5 junior guard Anthony Morrow (5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg), who started all 30 games last year but is working his way back from a back injury.

As one might expect, Tech’s gaudy numbers from the first three games cooled a bit against the stiff competition in Maui, but the Yellow Jackets remain No. 2 in the ACC in scoring offense (88.3 ppg), sixth in scoring margin (plus-17.2 ppg), second in field goal percentage (51.8 pct.) and fourth in three-point field foal percentage (39.6 pct.). Tech also ranks third in rebound margin (plus-10.0) and assists per game (17.5) and lead the conference in offensive rebounds.

KUDOS FROM MAUI

> Georgia Tech’s three opponents in the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational went 6-0 in their other games in the tournament. Purdue defeated Oklahoma and DePaul after losing to Tech. Memphis defeated Oklahoma in the first round, then Kentucky in the third-place game. UCLA dispatched Chaminade and Kentucky before beating Tech.

> Sophomore guard Lewis Clinch made the all-tournament team along with Darren Collison (the MVP) and Aaron Afflalo of UCLA, Carl Landry of Purdue and Chris Douglas-Roberts of Memphis.

> Following are some excerpts from the post-Maui online column of ESPN’s Jay Bilas …

Best Pressure Defender: Runner Up: Mario West, Georgia Tech. West is an underrated defender, and does a really good job on the ball.

Patience Award: Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech. Hewitt is one of the nation’s finest coaches, and he showed it in Maui. With a team of young talent, Hewitt taught, cajoled and brought along his young point guard, and went a long way toward teaching him the lessons he will need to be a great one in the ACC. Hewitt could have just brought out the hook, but instead took the time to teach.

Best Shooter Award: Lewis Clinch, Georgia Tech. Clinch is healthy this season, and can really knock down shots. He is turning into a really fine guard. Clinch played his guts out in Maui, and can be an All-ACC performer.

Best Off the Bounce Award: Javaris Crittenton, Georgia Tech. Crittenton has a long way to go before he is as good as his talent suggests he will be, but he can break you down off the dribble and get to the rim.

Biggest Upside Award: Runner Up: Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech. Young is a future star. The lefty has great tools with which to work, and he is learning how to use them effectively. Right now, he puts up numbers on raw talent alone. Expect Paul Hewitt to refine his game. People are saying “one and out” with Young, but he should stay long enough to learn how to dominate a game. He has it in him to do it.

Toughness Award: Runner Up: Jeremis Smith, Georgia Tech. As much as anyone else, Smith won the Memphis game for the Yellow Jackets with his toughness and physicality. He will back down to no one.

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