Tech Set to Face Virginia in ACC Tournament

March 11, 2008

Georgia Tech enters the 55th Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament as the No. 7 seed and will face No. 10 Virginia at 7 p.m. Thursday night in the opening round of the championship at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, N.C.

The winner of Thursday’s game will face Duke, the No. 2 seed, at 7 p.m. Friday, with the winner of that game advancing to the 3:30 p.m. semi-final game on Saturday. The championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

The Tech-Virginia game will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Any subsequent games the Yellow Jackets play can be seen in the Atlanta area on WATL-TV. Radio coverage of the game is provided on the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, and can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790), WREK-FM (91.1) and WTSH-FM (107.1).

WQXI-AM (790 the Zone) will carry all games in the ACC Tournament through Sunday. Raycom Sports will televised all games, except the Tech-Virginia game Thursday night, throughout the ACC region, including Atlanta’s WATL-TV. Outside the ACC region, the games will be available on ESPN or ESPN2.

Tech, 14-16 overall this season, finished its ACC schedule with a 7-9 record following its’ 86-78 victory at Boston College Saturday. The Yellow Jackets earned the 7th seed in a tiebreaker because of its combined 2-1 record against Wake Forest (8th seed) and Florida State (9th), who finished with the same conference record. The Yellow Jackets enter the ACC Tournament with three wins in their last four games.

Tech and Virginia split their regular-season series, each team winning on the other’s homecourt. The Yellow Jackets defeated the Cavaliers in overtime, 92-82, on Jan. 27 at the John Paul Jones Arena. UVA came back to win, 76-74, Mar. 3 in Atlanta on a late three-point basket in a game that was postponed from its original date of Feb. 21.

Virginia (15-14, 5-12 ACC) is on a similar run, having won four of its last six games, including a 91-76 homecourt win over Maryland Sunday. Duke (26-4, 13-3 ACC) has won four of five entering the tournament.

Tech’s ACC Tournament History

Georgia Tech has played in 28 ACC Tournaments, and has a 19-25 all-time record in the event. The Yellow Jackets have won three championships, in 1985, 1990 and 1993. Tech has been a runner-up three other times (1986, 1996, 2005).

Tech has a 4-7 record in the tournament with Paul Hewitt as its head coach, including a runner-up finish in 2005 in Washington, D.C. The Yellow Jackets have won at least one tournament game in three of seven years under Hewitt, including first-round victories over Virginia (2001) and North Carolina (2004), plus wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina in 2005 to reach the finals.

Vs. Virginia — The last meeting between Tech and Virginia in the ACC Tournament occurred in 2001 at the Georgia Dome, head coach Paul Hewitt’s first ACC Tournament game as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach (Tech won the game, 74-69). Tech and Virginia are even at 4-4 in ACC Tournament games, including a 70-61 Jacket victory in the 1990 final in Charlotte.

Vs. Duke — The Yellow Jackets last met Duke in the ACC Tournament in the 2005 championship game at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., a game won by the Blue Devils, 69-64. Tech is 3-5 against the Blue Devils in ACC Tournament encounters, and has defeated Duke on the way to each of its three tournament titles, including semifinal victories in 1985 and 1990 and a first-round triumph in 1993. The Blue Devils defeated Tech in the 1986 championship game.

Jackets Finish Regular Season on High Note

Georgia Tech played four games in eight days to close out the regular season, and came within one three-point basket (in a 76-74 loss to Virginia on Mar. 3) of winning all four. Tech defeated Wake Forest, 87-79 in overtime, on Mar. 1, No. 24 Clemson, 80-75, on Mar. 6 as well as Boston College.

It was a typical finish for the Jackets, who won three of four games and seven of nine to finish last year’s regular season, and have completed each of the last seven regular seasons with a win.

Tech exorcised a couple of demons on Mar. 6 by rallying from a 13-point deficit to defeat 24th-ranked Clemson, 80-75, at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets, who had been unable to hold late leads at home on several occasions this season, held off the Tigers by hitting 16-of-21 free throws in the second half, including 6-of-6 in the final 1:21, to complete its home slate at 6-7. Tech also secured its first victory of the season over a top-25 team. The Jackets closed out the regular season by rallying from a five-point, second-half deficit to defeat Boston College, 86-78, Saturday at the Conte Forum. The win evened Tech’s ACC road record at 4-4.

Senior Impact

Three Georgia Tech players are closing out their careers on the Flats in fine fashion. They have helped the Yellow Jackets to 65 wins and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances over the past three-plus seasons.

Matt Causey, a transfer from North Georgia College who sat out last season, has made an important impact on this year’s Yellow Jacket team with his all-out hustle and aggressive play. The Gainesville, Ga., native is Tech’s third-leading scorer in ACC games (10.3 ppg) and has ranked in the ACC’s top 10 in assists and assist-turnover ratio all season.

Anthony Morrow, who will play his final ACC Tournament in his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., this week, has developed into more than just the catch-and-shoot player he was as a freshman. He has climbed to 20th on Georgia Tech’s all-time scoring chart and No. 4 in three-point field goals made, and is on the verge of setting a Tech record for career free throw percentage.

Jeremis Smith, a heralded prep star from Fort Worth, Texas, found his niche on the Tech team by becoming a tenacious defender and rebounder. He has led the Jackets in rebounds three straight years and is Tech’s second-leading scorer this season while climbing to No. 13 in career rebounds and No. 11 in career steals for the Jackets.

Quick Look at Tech

Georgia Tech’s starting lineup for 15 of the last 16 games (beginning Jan. 12 at Miami) has included freshman Moe Miller at point guard and junior D’Andre Bell at one wing. Seniors Anthony Morrow (wing) and Jeremis Smith (big forward) have started all 30 games for the Yellow Jackets, while freshman Gani Lawal has started the last 23 games at center.

Miller replaced Matt Causey in the lineup on Jan. 12 and has started every game since except for Senior Night on Mar. 6. Both players see significant minutes at the point, combining to average 18.3 points and 7.0 assists in ACC games.

Despite playing less than 20 minutes a game, the 6-0 Causey ranks eighth in the ACC in assists and 10th in assist-turnover ratio. Tech’s top scorer for six of the last 16 games, Causey has averaged 10.2 points and 3.7 assists since Jan. 12. Miller, a 6-1 rookie from Memphis, Tenn., has averaged 10.0 points over his last 12 games, including 29 points and five assists Feb. 23 at Virginia Tech.

Morrow, a 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., who is the Yellow Jackets’ top returning scorer from 2006-07, currently ranks 15th in the ACC with 14.2 points a game, 13.5 vs. the ACC. One of Tech’s best all-time three-point shooters with 250 for his career, Morrow has hit 43.2 percent from that distance this season.

Bell, a 6-5 junior, provides good physical defense on the perimeter and can score when needed (three double-figure games in ACC play). He averages 6.5 points for the season, 7.6 vs. the ACC, and has shot 47.4 percent from the floor. Bell started four games at point guard in Miller’s absence early in the year and moved primarily to the wing as Miller and Causey developed into a solid tandem.

Smith, the team captain and a 6-8 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, is Tech’s second-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game and its leading rebounder at 7.1 per game (ninth in the ACC). Smith has averaged 11.3 points and 7.4 rebounds in ACC games, and has reached double figures in points in seven of the last nine games.

Lawal, a 6-8 rookie from Riverdale, Ga., averages 7.3 points and 3.6 rebounds while leading the Jackets in field goal percentage at 57.8.

Backcourt reserves — Clinch, a 6-3 guard from Cordele, Ga., has reached double-digits in scoring in 15 games this year, and is Tech’s fourth-leading scorer with 9.2 points per game, but has struggled in ACC games (6.1 ppg, 36.0 pct. FG). Six-foot-4 freshman Lance Storrs of Decatur, Ga., averaging 1.1 points per game, has seen more significant playing time off the bench since late January as an additional perimeter defender.

Frontcourt reserves — Hewitt can go to 6-8 sophomore Zack Peacock of Miami, Fla., and 6-10 junior Alade Aminu of Stone Mountain, Ga. Peacock is Tech’s third-leading scorer (9.6) and rebounder (4.0) and has averaged 17.7 points in Tech’s last three games. Aminu, who started Tech’s first seven games of the season, has averaged 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds while hitting 53.2 percent of his shots from the floor. Tech also has 6-11 red-shirt freshman Brad Sheehan of Latham, N.Y., who has played sparingly in ACC games.

Quoting Head Coach Paul Hewitt

On the prospect of playing four games to win the tournament — “Whoever gets through the first round, in the first half of that seocnd game, the team that played the day before has an advantage. It’s in the second half of that second game where you start to see the physical toll and the mental toll. If you get through that one, then you really have a test to face on Saturday. These are young kids, and they’re excited about playing in the best basketball tournament, outside of the NCAA, that our game offers. Sometimes adrenaline and enthusiasm take you a long way.”

On pacing yourself rather that focusing everything on the first game — “There’s no such thing as pacing yourself. You just have to get through that first game. If you’re familiar with how the league went this year, with so many games being decided by three points or less, and so many games going into overtime, you don’t know which pssession is going to make the difference. All you’re trying to do is get through the game and get on to Friday.”

On the performance of Tech’s seniors — “I know how hard it is for seniors to go through what we have gone through this season and all of the close games that we have had. No matter how tough I am on them or if I am patting them on the back, they come out and play hard. They want to leave here and make sure they show people what they can do. (ESPN’s) Jimmy Dykes told me that we are probably the team that nobody wants to play in the tournament, because we do give a good effort and we have some pretty good pieces. We’ve been hanging around all year. Now hopefully we can hang around on Saturday and make another good attempt at a win.”

On Jeremis Smith’s performance in the last two weeks — “Seniors sometimes hit the point where they say, what the heck, not that they haven’t tried. Everybody who has watched us play knows that Jeremis goes all out and played with a great deal of effort and intensity. But he seems more relaxed offensively. He’s seeing the floor and the game a lot better, and that’s why he’s shooting the ball a lot better.

On Zack Peacock’s performance in the last four game — “He’s one of those guys that I look back on the year and think I should have played found a way to get him more minutes. He’s a very good offensive player who can stretch a defense. He’s one of those guys that the more minutes he gets, the more comfortable he is out on the floor. He’s a very intellingent defender. He takes charges. He’s not a shot-blocker. Heprobably could rebound a little bit more, but he’s always in position defensively. He’s versatility give people a lot of problems. We’re just starting to see his ability to shoot the basketball. His numbers may not suggest it, but he’s one of the better three-point shooters in our program.”

On Anthony Morrow’s excitement about playing his last ACC Tournament in Charlotte — “He’s an emotional player, anyway. I can’t talk him down, so I won’t waste the time (laughing). I’m happy that he has the chance to come home to play in the ACC Tournament. I know he’ll play well. He’s excited, obviously. He’ll have family and friends there. As a senior, he’s been through this before. he knows what it takes.”

Ambitious Scheduling, Close Losses Are Jackets’ Tale

Georgia Tech has played one of the strongest schedules in its history this year, posting a schedule strength rank of No. 8 according to the current RPI rankings and No. 2 in the Sagarin Index.

The teams Tech lost to have a combined record of 323-136 (non-conference teams are 156-61). That includes eight teams who have spent time in the top 25 this year (200-45). Tech is 7-12 vs. teams in the top 100 of the RPI.

Winthrop (22-11) has won the Big South Conference championship and will go to the NCAA Tournament, while UNC Greensboro (19-12) reached the semifinals of the Southern Conference tournament. Tennessee State, whom Tech defeated in game two this year, reached the finals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Notre Dame (24-6), whom Tech defeated in the Paradise Jam, holds second place in the Big East standings, while Connecticut (24-7) is fourth. Indiana (25-6) is third in the Big Ten, while Vanderbilt (25-6) is third in the SEC East.

> Tech has played one of the most ambitious road schedules in recent memory, traveling to the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the Jackets played Notre Dame, Winthrop and Charlotte. Tech also visited Nashville twice for games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee State and traveled to Indiana, cross-town rival Georgia State, state-rival Georgia and 19th-ranked Connecticut.

> Tech had only three home games before the Christmas holiday, UNC-Greensboro to open the season, Kansas Dec. 18, and Centenary on Dec. 22. In contrast to last season, when the Jackets played 17 home games, they played only 13 this year, which is the fewest for a full season since 1990-91.

> The Jackets were 6-8 on opponents’ home courts this year, the most road victories for Tech since the 2003-04 Final Four season. Tech also was 4-4 in ACC road games (best since 2003-04), and was 8-9 away from Atlanta.

> Tech’s win over Clemson gave the Yellow Jackets a 6-7 record this year at home, their first losing mark here in 27 years unless it hosts any NIT games. Tech has had two other losing seasons at home since Alexander Memorial Coliseum was built, in 1973-74 (4-10) and 1980-81 (4-11).

> The last time Tech won as many games on opponents’ home courts as its own was the 1947-48 season (4-7 at home, 5-5 away), when the Yellow Jackets played their home games in the Heisman Gym, located on the current site of the Bobby Dodd Stadium North stands.

> Tech has found itself in several close games this season. Twenty-one of Tech’s 30 games this year have been decided by 10 points or fewer, and the Jackets are 9-12 in those games. Fourteen games have been decided by five points or fewer or have gone to OT, and Tech is 7-7 in those contests.

> Tech’s five home ACC losses came by a total of eight points (one to Miami, two to Maryland, one to North Carolina, two to Florida State, two to Virginia).

Tech Unable to Protect Late Leads at Home

Georgia Tech’s loss to Virginia marked the fourth time this season the Yellow Jackets have been unable to protect a late lead at home. Tech had a 72-69 lead with 2:18 left, and a 74-73 lead with 10 seconds remaining.

Tech held a 71-64 lead over Wake Forest with 2:56 left on Mar. 1, but the Demon Deacons rallied to send the game into overtime (Tech won, 87-79). The Yellow Jackets also led Miami 60-57 at the 1:52 mark in a 64-63 loss, and led Florida State 63-60 with 1:30 remaining in a 66-64 loss. The Jackets were tied 82-82 with North Carolina at the 1:13 mark on Jan. 16, but did not score another point.

Free throws have been another factor in Tech’s close losses at home. In the Jackets’ five ACC home losses, they were 61-of-92 from the foul line (66.3 pct.).

Scoring Comes Back

Following a rough five-game stretch in which the Georgia Tech averaged just 68 points a game (all losses), the Yellow Jackets have rallied to average 81.8 points in the last four, winning three of those games.

Tech shot better than 50 percent in each of its last two games (54.3 pct. combined) and made 14-of-29 from behind the three-point line.

In its last four games, Tech has shot 48.0 percent from the floor overall, 37.1 pct. from three-point range, and the Jackets have scored 86 points on free throws (in 125 attempts) and have assisted in 68 of 109 field goals (62.4 pct.). The Jackets also have averaged 91.8 offensive possessions (using a formula of FG attempts plus FT attempts plus turnovers minus offensive rebounds), and have a plus-3.8 per game turnover margin.

During its five-game losing streak, Tech made 41.9 percent of its field goal tries and 29.2 percent of its threes. The Jackets also had a minus-3.6 turnover margin during this streak and averaged just 79.6 offensive possessions.

Over the six games before Tech’s losing streak (Jan. 16 through Feb. 6), Tech averaged 84.5 points per game, shot 50 percent from the floor overall and 38.9 percent from three-point range. The Jackets averaged 88.5 offensive possessions and had a plus-3.8 turnover margin.

Tech remains among the ACC leaders in scoring average (fourth) and field goal percentage (second) for the season, both in all games and ACC games.

The Postmen Deliver

Part of the reason for Georgia Tech’s fast finish has been the combined play of post players Jeremis Smith and Zack Peacock. Smith and Peacock are Tech’s top two scorers over the last week, combining to average 29.3 points and 13.5 rebounds in the last four games. They also have combined to make 58.6 percent of their shots from the floor, record 11 assists and 13 steals.

Peacock has reached double figures in three straight games and averaged 17.7 points while hitting 15-of-16 free throws, with a high game of 23 points against Virginia. Smith has finished the regular season with seven double figure games in the last nine and a field goal percentage of 65.2 over that stretch. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds Saturday at Boston College.

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