Yellow Jackets Face Hokies in ACC Tournament Friday

March 10, 2005

Washington, D.C. – Georgia Tech is the No. 5 seed in the 52nd annual Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament, and will meet No. 4 seed Virginia Tech at approximately 2:30 p.m. Friday in the tournament’s quarterfinals at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. The Yellow Jackets avoided playing in the first round by defeating Clemson Saturday in their final regular season game, and by NC State losing to Wake Forest Sunday night. The bottom six seeds play first-round games on Thursday.

First-round games Thursday include No. 8 Maryland against No. 9 Clemson, No. 7 NC State vs. No. 10 Florida State, and No. 6 Miami vs. No. 11 Virginia. The Maryland-Clemson winner will meet No. 1 North Carolina at 12 noon Friday, and that survivor will face the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech winner in Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. semifinal.

All games in the ACC Tournament, except the 7 p.m. first-round game Thursday night between Miami and Virginia (ESPN only), will be televised over the Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot Network and can be seen in the Atlanta area on WATL-TV (WB36). Viewers inside the ACC region should check their local listings for the affiliates carrying the games, while those outside the ACC region can see them on ESPN or ESPN2.

Radio coverage for all tournament games, including Georgia Tech’s games, is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Network, and airs locally on WQXI-AM (790).

Tech enters the tournament 17-10 overall, its second-best regular-season record under Paul Hewitt, and tied for fourth place at 8-8 in the final ACC standings with first-year member Virginia Tech. The Yellow Jackets’ 64-56 homecourt win over Clemson on Saturday gave them a 6-5 record over their last 11 games, but Tech has not been able to put together two straight wins since opening the ACC slate with victories over Miami and Virginia in early January. The Jackets have alternated wins and losses since their 102-101 triumph over the Demon Deacons on Jan. 27.

Tech has played several close games since Jan. 1, beginning with a two-point overtime loss at Kansas. The Jackets’ last six ACC wins have been achieved by a total of 25 points (average of 4.2 ppg), four of those on the game’s final possession. Tech’s last seven games have been decided by eight points or less, and eight of the last 12 by four points or less.

Tech ranks second in the ACC in scoring defense (66.3 ppg), first in field goal percentage defense (38.6 pct.) and second in three-point defense (31.0 pct.), and also rates fifth, third and third 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 14 games (two games with Wake Forest are the exceptions). The Yellow Jackets have, however, averaged 78.3 points in their last four road games, and have exceeded 40 points in a half five times in seven games. Tech also ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring for both conference games and all games.

The Yellow Jackets, who have had all 14 of their players dressed and available for only nine 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 13.9 points in his seven games back on the court, while Smith has averaged 3.0 points and 5.0 rebounds off the bench.

B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.) returned to the starting lineup for Tech’s last five 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 13.9 points in seven games since returning to the court at Clemson on Feb. 8. The 6-4 senior is averaging 13.4 for the season, shooting 41.9 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from the three-point line.

He will be joined in the starting lineup by Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), Tech’s 6-3 junior point guard who has started all but one game in his Tech career. A mid-season candidate for the Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award, Jack ranks 10th in the ACC in scoring (15.9 ppg), fifth in assists (4.63 per game), sixth in field goal percentage (51.6), fourth in three-point percentage (41.8) and third in free throw percentage (88.5). He has scored 20 points three times in his last four games, and averaged 17.9 points over his last seven.

The test of the starting lineup includes three seniors in 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.4 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game, and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 11.6 points and 2.6 assists per game.

Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots (1.85 per game), has eight double figure games in scoring and three in rebounds over his last 10 contests, and has shot 58.9 percent from the floor since Elder returned. Bynum, a 6-0 junior from Chicago, Ill., who started 13 of 16 ACC games this year, has been a key contributor in each of Tech’s last four road games and averaged 12.1 points in league games.

Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), a 6-6 forward (9.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg) who has started 22 games this season, has been bothered by a chronic patellar tendonitis condition of late and has averaged 3.4 points over his last four games.

Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap, has averaged 3.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in seven games since his return on Feb. 8. He has averaged 6.8 rebounds in Tech’s last four games, leading the Jackets against Duke (6) and Miami (8).

Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., has averaged 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 37.3 percent of his three-pointers this season overall and has six double-figure games off the bench. Dickey, who has shot 63.5 percent from the floor to lead the team (66.7 pct. in ACC games), entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center.

TECH IN THE ACC TOURNAMENT

This is Georgia Tech’s 26th appearance in the ACC Tournament, and the Yellow Jackets have an all-time record of 17-22 in the event. In tournaments held outside the state of North Carolina, Tech has a 5-5 record, including an 0-2 mark in two tournaments held at the Capital Center in Landover, Md., in 1981 and 1987.

> Tech has won three ACC Tournament titles, in 1985 (Atlanta), 1990 (Charlotte) and 1993 (Charlotte), all under head coach Bobby Cremins, and has lost in the finals on two other occasions, 1986 and 1996 in Greensboro.

> Under Paul Hewitt: Tech is 2-4 in four ACC Tournaments, including 1-1 marks in 2001 in Atlanta and 2004 in Greensboro. The Yellow Jackets took first-round losses in 2002 in Charlotte and 2003 in Greensboro.

> This is the seventh time Tech has entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed, and the Yellow Jackets have not fared well from that position, posting a 1-6 record. Tech’s only win from that position was a 74-69 decision over Virginia in the first round of the 2001 tournament at the Georgia Dome.

> Tech’s tournament titles have been won as a No. 1 seed (1985), a No. 3 seed (1990) and a No. 6 seed (1993). Tech was a No. 1 seed in 1986 and 1996 when it lost in the finals.

> In tournament play, Tech is 2-0 vs. Clemson, 3-4 vs. Duke, 0-1 vs. Florida State, 3-3 vs. Maryland, 3-4 vs. North Carolina, 2-3 vs. NC State, 4-4 vs. Virginia and 0-3 vs. Wake Forest (complete results and breakdown elsewhere in this tournament guide and on pages 230-231 of Tech’s preseason media guide).

> In the three-year period in which this year’s senior class has been involved, Tech has averaged 75.3 points in four ACC Tournament games, shot 47.1 percent from the floor, 38.6 percent from three-point range and 78.3 percent from the free throw line. Its opponents have averaged 79.5 points, shot 45.8 percent from the floor and 35.1 percent from three-point range.

QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt

On Tech entering the ACC Tournament – “We’re grateful to have the day off (Thursday). I think our team is about as healthy as it’s been since the early part of the Kansas game (Jan. 1). Isma’il Muhammad is the only player who is a question mark with patellar tendonitis that has been hampering him all year. It’s pretty well flared up right now, but he had some treatment yesterday, and we’re hoping the extra day off will help him to get as close to 100 percent as possible.

On whether the NCAA Committee should take into account players missing time due to injury – “I don’t know. I feel like we have an opportunity coming up on Friday to make a stronger case for ourselves. Until all the teams have played, and the ‘resume’ is finished, I try not to get into what they are thinking and how they view things.”

On how much different your team is with B.J. Elder available for the rematch with Virginia Tech – “We have to defend better, whether B.J. was healthy or not. The way we defended that day, and the way Virginia Tech played, they would have had a great chance to beat us anyway. Our whole thing is that when we defend well, everything else comes easier for us. We’ve made that the cornerstone of this program. Looking at all games, I think we’re still number one in terms of field goal percentage, and in the ACC games, I think we’re in the top three. It comes down to guarding them. They have some guys in Dowdell, Dixon and Collins, who can get their own shot, which makes them very dangerous, and certainly a tournament-worthy team. When the game bogs down, they can still find ways to manufacture points.

“We need to contest shots better. They got whatever they wanted (in the first meeting). They moved the ball, whether it was off the pass or the dribble. You have to give them credit. It’s not like we were completely slack. Dixon made some big-time shots down the stretch.”

What does it take to win six games in the NCAA Tournament – “Balance, balance offensively, and consistency defensively. I’ve always though that teams that rely on the three have a tough time winning six games just shooting the three. Defensively and rebounding-wise, if you limit teams to one shot, then you have a great chance. And you have to be lucky. You have to have a bounce, a call, a lucky break somehow. You have to have something go your way.”

The importance of the point guard this time of year – “Possessions are more important. One or two possessions could spell the end of your season. That guy has got to make sure the club is running well and getting an attempt every time. The lower your turnovers, the better your chance to win.”

Do you feel like you need another win in this tournament – “I think our team is tournament-worthy, but I don’t make that decision. I feel like we can go out and play well, and if have a chance to win a game, go out and win the game. There is only one way to erase all doubt, and that’s to keep playing.”

What a different team you are with B.J. Elder – “You can look at one guy, Luke Schenscher. His trips to the foul line have doubled. He’s shooting 59 percent from the floor. He’s up three or four points a game. Our three-point shooting is better, not just because of B.J., but because our spacing is better. We can get Luke more post touches, and he’s an outstanding passer, and we all know the inside-out is the best three-point shot you can take. Instead of having you three-point shots coming from passes along the perimeter, they’re coming from passes out of the paint. That makes your three-point shooting more accurate. We’re still not as consistent as we can be, but we’re getting better and better.

“What I like about our team is that regardless of how well we’re scoring or not scoring, we’re going to defend. Now with B.J. out there, our offense will improve, and our defense will only get better.”

FROM 0-7 IN ACC TO NATIONAL TITLE GAME

Georgia Tech’s five senior players who played 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 76-51 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 were honored in a pre-game ceremony with their families present. Even Luke Schenscher’s mother, Barbara, was here all the way from Hope Forest, Australia.

WALKING A TIGHTROPE

Twelve of Tech’s last 13 games have been decided by eight points or less (Tech is 6-7), seven of those by four points or less (4-3). Five of those games came down to the final possession. The Yellow Jackets have not won a game by more than eight points since Virginia on Jan. 8.

Tech 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 six ACC wins by a total of 25 points.

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 after holding an 11-point lead in the second half.

Clemson (2/8) and Miami (2/26) 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.

A CASE FOR THE JACKETS IN THE POST-SEASON

With seven games under its belt since the return of senior guard B.J. Elder and freshman forward Jeremis Smith, Georgia Tech has begun 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 4-3, 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 78.5 points in the four road games played during the 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 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 45.8 percent from the floor for the seven games, almost identical to its full-season number, and 30.8 percent from three-point range. 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, 70.5 percent compared to 68.1 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 17.9 points in those six games, shot 53.7 percent from the floor, 41.2 percent from three-point range and 88.2 percent from the foul line, as well as 5.0 assists per game, numbers which are comparable or exceed his total season norms.

> Center Luke Schenscher has had more room to operate. He has averaged 11.9 points, shot 58.9 percent from the floor and is 17-of-28 from the foul line (four FT per game), all well above his full-season averages. An excellent passer out of the post, Schenscher also has 14 assists in the seven games.

> For his own part, Elder has averaged 13.9 points since returning (13.2 before getting hurt), and is 16-for-49 from three-point range (32.7 percent).

> Tech has outrebounded the last seven teams on average (34.6 to 32.9), largely because Smith has averaged 5.0 rebounds since returning, 6.8 over his last four games. Smith, also an excellent passer, has nine assists and just six turnovers (7 and 3 in the last four games).

Tech has also continued to play superior defense during the period. Tech has allowed just 68 points a game in the seven games since Elder and Smith returned (63 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, 31.9 percent compared to 35.3 percent while they both were out.

Tech ranks second in the ACC in scoring defense (66.3 ppg), first in field goal defense (38.6 pct.) and second in three-point defense (31.0 pct.).

NUMBERS COMPARABLE TO FINAL FOUR TEAM

For all of the talk concerning Georgia Tech’s difficulties on offense this season, the Yellow Jackets rank in the upper half of the ACC in scoring average for all games (74.9 ppg) and conference games only (72.8). Tech’s scoring average was 76.5 ppg last year, and both teams ranked fifth in the ACC.

Tech’s field goal percentage of 46.0 is just .005 off last year’s Final Four team, and the Jackets ranked third in the ACC both this year and last. Tech’s assist average is up slightly over last year (15.5 per game to 15.2 last year), and its turnover average is the same (15.4 per game).

The most significant difference between last year and this year is three-point shooting. The Yellow Jackets are off more than one three-pointer made per game, and their .329 percentage is well off the .366 mark of 2004, a difference that is attributable, at least in part, to the extended absence of B.J. Elder.

Defensively, Tech is also comparable to last year’s team, allowing 66.3 points per game this year to 67.2 last season. It has allowed teams to shoot 38.6 percent, 38.8 last year. Tech is taking about one-and-a-half rebounds more than last year, but is forcing about one-and-a-half fewer turnovers (a difference that can be traced to a hobbled Isma’il Muhammad).

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 69.3 points against the league this season.

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), Duke (60-56) and the regular season finale against Clemson (64-56 win), 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 averaged 78.5 points, shot 48.4 percent overall and 39.8 percent from three-point range in the four road games, while also making 76.5 percent of its free throws. In the three home games, the Yellow Jackets shot just 42.0 percent overall, and were 3-for-34 from behind the arc.

JACK, SCHENSCHER CONSTANTS 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 17.9 points over his last eight games, all double-figure efforts, beginning with the first Duke game on Feb. 5. He scored 20 or more in the 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 eight-game period, Jack is shooting 52.6 percent (50-of-95) from the floor during the period, 42.9 percent (9-of-21) from three-point range, and 89.5 percent (34-of-38) from the foul line. He has averaged 5.1 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 11.6 points and 7.8 rebounds over his last 10 games, recording three double-doubles and eight games with double digits in scoring. Since B.J. Elder returned, Schenscher is shooting 58.9 percent from the floor and has averaged two assists.

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 against Wake Forest. He went for 11 and 15 (11 offensive rebounds) on Senior Day against Clemson.

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