March 18, 2005
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – No last-second shots. No hurry-up offense. No teeth-clenching, hand-holding, hearts-in-their-throats final moments.
Georgia Tech’s win was extraordinary only because it was so ordinary.
Jarrett Jack, Will Bynum and B.J. Elder combined to score on six straight possessions in the second half, and the Yellow Jackets rolled to an 80-68 victory over George Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday night.
Last year, the Yellow Jackets never won by more than eight points in their march to the championship game.
“When you have a little breathing room at the end of the game, it definitely feels good,” said Elder, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds. “This didn’t come down to the wire and give us a heart attack.”
The tournament is young, though. The fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets (20-11) will play fourth-seeded Louisville in the Albuquerque Regional on Sunday afternoon. The Cardinals (30-4) held off Louisiana-Lafayette earlier Friday.
Georgia Tech played five thrillers on its way to meeting Connecticut in the title game last year. After winning its first three games by a total of 13 points, the Yellow Jackets beat Kansas by eight in the regional finals – but it took overtime to do it.
Facing a pesky 12th-seeded George Washington team that produced all kinds of matchup fits, Georgia Tech looked like it was in for more drama Friday. The lead changed nine times, and George Washington kept scrapping back whenever Tech threatened to make a run.
“I didn’t expect this game to be a 12-point margin at the end,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said. “I thought it was going to be a one-possession basketball game.”
But Elder hit a pullup jumper with 9:24 left to spark the decisive 12-0 run that sealed the game. The Yellow Jackets scored on six straight possessions, with Bynum, Elder and Jack trading baskets.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu finally stopped the run with a monster dunk, but George Washington never got close again.
Jack led the Yellow Jackets with 20 points, and Bynum added 17. Isma’il Muhammad, who missed the entire ACC tournament with tendinitis in his right knee, played five minutes and scored two points.
Mensah-Bonsu led four Colonials in double figures with 15 points, and Mike Hall had 13 points and nine rebounds. But George Washington (22-8) couldn’t overcome its dismal foul shooting. It was just 4-of-16 at the line, including seven straight misses at one point.
T.J. Thompson, George Washington’s leading scorer, was held to eight points, five below his average.
“Whenever you go 4-for-16, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to beat anybody,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “They play similar to us, we welcomed their style of play. We missed 12 foul shots and couldn’t execute on offense, either.”
Still, just making the tournament was a huge step forward for the Colonials. Two years ago, George Washington wrapped up its third straight losing season.
“I didn’t say much to them about this game,” coach Karl Hobbs said. “I wrote on the board 22-8. I wrote on the board A-10 regular-season champion and I wrote on the board A-10 tournament champions. I wanted them to know how proud I was of them, and that they were champions.”
Tech returns almost its entire team from last year, but the Yellow Jackets were on the bubble for this year’s tournament until the last week of the regular season. They finished strong, beating Clemson in the regular-season finale and stunning North Carolina to reach the championship of the ACC tournament.
They lost to Duke in the title game, but came into the tournament with momentum. The Colonials did their best to slow it, forcing Luke Schenscher to the bench with two fouls less than three minutes into the game. With no answer inside, George Washington kept getting the ball to Mensah-Bonsu. He scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting before he, too, picked up his second foul with 7:45 left.
Jack drove the length of the court for a layup to push the lead to 40-35 at halftime, but George Washington wasn’t done. Hall made a 3-pointer that hit the rim, bounced up and then dropped back to give the Colonials a 43-42 lead with 18:30 left, its first since midway through the first half.
But the Yellow Jackets hung in there, finally breaking the game open.
“I think the experience factor plays a huge role,” Jack said. “We have the confidence. We know what it takes to get there.”
AP National Writer