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Cagers Host No. 7 Duke Wednesday

Feb. 22, 2005

ATLANTA –

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Georgia Tech, which has won two of its last three games since the return of senior guard B.J. Elder, returns home to face No. 7 Duke at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets finish their regular season with two road games (Miami, Wake Forest) in their last three following the Duke game.

Wednesday’s game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 (has moved from ESPN). Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, and can be heard locally on WQXI-AM (790) and WREK-FM (91.1). Tech’s broadcast can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio (Ch. 191), and Westwood One Radio will also carry the game on radio across the country.

The Yellow Jackets (15-8, 6-6 ACC) squared their ACC record Sunday following 76-75 victory at Florida State. Tech has not, however, 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 Wake Forest on Jan. 27.

Tech currently has sixth place to themselves in the ACC standings, a half-game behind Maryland and Virginia Tech and a half-game ahead of Miami, next on Tech’s schedule Saturday. NC State is in eighth place at 5-7.

Duke (19-4, 9-4 ACC) snapped a two-game skid Sunday night with a 102-92 homecourt victory over Wake Forest, and defeated Tech, 82-65, in the teams’ first meeting this year in Durham. The Blue Devils have won eight straight games on the Jackets’ home floor.

Tech’s one-point win at FSU Sunday has not been uncommon of late for the Yellow Jackets, whose last four ACC wins have been achieved by a total of 13 points, three of those on the game’s final possession.

Tech remains the ACC leader in scoring defense (65.4 ppg), field goal percentage defense (38.3 pct.) and three-point defense (30.1 pct.), and also rates sixth, third and third in the league in those categories for ACC games only. Tech continues to struggle offensively, however, scoring no more than 76 points in any of their last nine games except the Wake Forest game (102). There have been signs of improvement of late, however, with a 43-point second half at Clemson and a 44-point first half at FSU.

B.J. Elder returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 1 at Florida State, and responded by scoring 16 of Tech’s first 30 points (including four threes). He finished with a game-high 22, including the game-winning free throws with 0.4 seconds showing on the clock.

Elder (Madison, Ga.), who replaced Will Bynum in the starting five, has averaged 13.7 points in three games since returning to the court at Clemson. The 6-4 senior is averaging 13.3 for the season, shooting 42.8 percent from the floor and 37.2 percent from the three-point line.

He is joined in the starting lineup by 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), one of the nation’s best point guards. A mid-season candidate for the Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award, Jack ranks 15th in the ACC in scoring (15.0 ppg), fifth in assists (4.57 per game), seventh in field goal percentage (50.7), seventh in three-point percentage (41.0) and third in free throw percentage (89.3).

They are joined by three other seniors in 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.9 points and 5.6 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.0 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game; and 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

Muhammad has averaged 11 points over his last 10 games. Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and third in blocked shots (2.09 per game), has averaged 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in his last six games. Bynum, a 6-0 junior from Chicago, Ill., who started every ACC game before Sunday, is Tech’s third-leading scorer (13.7 ppg) in conference games, and has averaged 12.4 points per game overall.

Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap, has averaged 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in three games since his return on Feb. 8. He lifted Tech with six points and three boards Sunday at Florida State. He brings a measure of toughness and strength to Tech’s frontline.

Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., has averaged more than 12 minutes a game 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. Morrow has made 37.7 percent of his three-pointers this season overall and has five double-figure games off the bench. Dickey, who has shot 62.5 percent from the floor to lead the team, entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center and is 20-for-31 from the floor (64.5 pct.) in ACC games.

QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt

On the significance of the win at Florida State – “It’s an important victory, but what we have to do right now is to build on the momentum that we gained from that game. We have exactly what we need right now as a team. We’re whole and healthy for the first time in a long time, and we need to go out, play a lot of games and get ourselves back together.”

On the importance of finishing fifth or better in the ACC – “I think for us this year, it really doesn’t matter a lot. The reason I say that is we have two of our top players (B.J. Elder and Jeremis Smith) who are coming off of long injuries, so those guys are pretty well rested. I think rest is very important as you get to the end of the year, rest and staying healthy.”

“No question it’s more difficult (to win four games instead of three), but we are the exception in that case because we have two guys getting significant minutes with a lot of rest. First of all, the top five teams are better than the teams that finish in the bottom six, and then having the day off. But our team is the anomaly, if you will, in that whole thing if we finish in that bottom group.

“We still feel like we can finish in the top five, that is definitely our goal. We definitely want to try and avoid playing that extra game if we can. But our team needs to get out and play games.”

On whether B.J. Elder showed rust after being out for so long – “We got lucky that we were off last week, and we had some intrasquad scrimmages. Both of those scrimmages made a big difference, he told me. He told me after Wednesday’s intrasquad that he was back, as close 100 percent as possible. We just hope he stays healthy the rest of the year.”

On giving up big leads late – “Lack of execution on offense, and missing a couple of free throws. It certainly bothers me, but that’s something that my coaching staff and I have to take care of. We need to put in a couple of different sets at the end of games and run some sets differently to give us shots from the guys we need shooting the ball.”

On the difficulty of controlling tempo – “If you have a 10-point lead with six minutes to go, you want to take some time off the clock. But when you do that, you also give the defense a chance to set itself up. If they’re defending well and rebounding well, you take the chance that you’re always going to be taking a contested shot. It definitely is a fine line. You’re going to put more pressure on your halfcourt offense if you slow the game down.”

On Duke’s ability to win on the road – “I admire the Duke players, because every time they go out and play, the other team is going to give them their best punch. Crowds give you a lot of electricity, but when they walk into somebody else’s building, the home team feels like this is their chance, they’re going to play very hard against us. They have to face that type of intensity and ferocity every game, and they go out and win games.”

On Shelden Williams – “He just seems to be playing with a lot more confidence. He’s one of the top two or three players in our league, if not the most important player in our league. I think he’s just showing natural progression. He’s bigger and stronger and more confident. He seems to be looking for his offense a little more. He could be the most important player in our league for his team.”

On having Reggie Love back for Duke – “You have another guy getting rebounds and setting screens for guys like J. J. Redick and Daniel Ewing. He’s another energy and effort guy.”

SERIES NOTES VS. DUKE

> Duke has won the last 17 of the last 18 games in the series, the lone Tech win coming last Mar. 3 in a 76-68 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which snapped a 15-game losing streak in the series for the Yellow Jackets. The Blue Devils lead the overall series 54-21, and are 42-17 against Tech since it joined the ACC.

> Earlier this season: Duke scored 10 straight points after Tech had pulled within 34-33 in the first half, and never looked back in taking an 82-65 victory on Feb. 5 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. J.J. Redick hit five threes in the first half and scored 26 points, while Shelden Williams scored 15 with 12 rebounds. Jarrett Jack led Tech with 18 points, while Luke Schenscher posted his third double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 boards.

> Duke has won the last eight meetings at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and has a 18-11 lead over Tech in games played on the Yellow Jackets’ present home court. Tech’s last win over Duke at Alexander was a 73-71 overtime decision on Feb. 7, 1996. Duke was the first opponent for Georgia Tech in the facility back on Nov. 30, 1956, when the Blue Devils took a 71-61 victory.

> Tech’s best stretch of the series occurred between 1982 and 1989, with 10 wins in 17 meetings. Tech has never won more than two in a row.

> Tech is 17-40 against Duke teams coached by Mike Krzyzewski, 10-14 in such games played in Atlanta. The Mar. 3 win last season was Tech’s only win in 10 tries under Paul Hewitt.

> Since 1984, Tech has faced Duke only twice when the Blue Devils were unranked, and only 14 times when they were out of the top 10 in both polls. Tech is 8-16 against Duke when both teams are in the top 25.

> Tech has won just five of 32 games played at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the first four coming in 1996, 1987, 1984 and 1959.

> Tech is 3-4 in ACC Tournament encounters. Tech defeated Duke on the way to each of its three tourament 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, 68-67.

GET ON TOP, STAY ON TOP

Georgia Tech has won most of its games this season, particularly its ACC victories, by coming out aggressively and taking the lead early. Not that the Yellow Jackets have made it easy on themselves even then.

Tech has led by double digits in each of its last four ACC wins, but has had to squeeze out the victory on its final possession in three of those games. The Yellow Jackets led 71-59 with 7:09 remaining Sunday 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, 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 a run of its own and won 80-69.

OFFENSE SHOWING SIGNS OF IMPROVEMENT

Georgia Tech demonstrated some strong signs of offensive improvement in Sunday’s game at Florida State, not the least of which was its 44 points and seven three-point field goals in the first half of the 76-75 victory. That and its 76 points in the game represented team highs since the Yellow Jackets’ 102-101 win over No. 5 Wake Forest back on Jan. 27.

Tech has shot 48.9 percent from the floor in its last three games, coinciding with the return of senior guard B.J. Elder. The Yellow Jackets’ seven threes in 17 attempts at FSU (4-of-8 by Elder), were two more than they had made in a game since Wake Forest and their best percentage since then as well. The Jackets also were 5-of-12 from three at Clemson.

Tech shot 57.8 percent from the floor overall at Clemson, scoring 70 points on just 45 shots from the floor. At Florida State, the Jackets shot 49.1 percent for the game, 51.9 percent in the second half, and committed just 12 turnovers.

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