April 1, 2004
Georgia Tech (27-9) vs.
Oklahoma State (31-3)
ROUND: National Semifinal.
TIME: Saturday, 6:07 p.m. EST.
SITE: The Alamodome, San Antonio.
Clutch performances and big shots by Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech produced two of most exciting games of the NCAA tournament – and earned both teams a berth in the Final Four.
Fans could be in for another classic contest when the Cowboys and Yellow Jackets meet with a spot in the national championship game on the line.
Oklahoma State, seeded second in the East Rutherford Regional, survived to defeat top-seeded Saint Joseph’s on Friday and give coach Eddie Sutton his third Final Four appearance. Sutton can thank guard John Lucas III, whose 3-pointer with 6 seconds left gave the Cowboys a 64-62 victory in the regional final.
Lucas’ winning shot completed a comeback from a 26-17 first-half deficit, sending Sutton and the Cowboys to their first Final Four since 1995.
“It’s been crazy,” said center Ivan McFarlin, who had a game-high 12 rebounds against the Hawks. “I had three classes today and each class I went to, the students stood up and started clapping for me. For a couple of minutes, we stopped class and I talked about how I feel for the Final Four.”
Unlike his players, the 68-year-old Sutton has learned not to get swept away by that enthusiasm, and is planning on avoiding a mistake he made nine years ago.
“In 1995, we didn’t protect them as much as we could have and they got caught up in some of the hoopla,” Sutton said. “This team is a little more mature in a lot of ways. We have a lot of players who are 23 or 24 years old.”
Sutton hopes that maturity will help produce repeat performances from Lucas, who shot 7-for-20 from the field against Saint Joseph’s but had 19 points; Joey Graham, who had 17 points, 11 rebounds and went 7-for-8 from the floor; and Tony Allen, who added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Most important for Sutton, however, is making sure Oklahoma State brings its smothering defense to the matchup with Georgia Tech. The Cowboys were able to rally against Saint Joseph’s in large part because they held star guard Jameer Nelson to 17 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
Sutton was worried about the problems Nelson and fellow Hawks guard Delonte West would pose for his squad, and he’s readying the Cowboys for a similar opponent in the Yellow Jackets. Sutton and his coaching staff will again prepare to defend quick, tenacious guards, with Georgia Tech’s Jarrett Jack and B.J. Elder drawing the Cowboys’ concern instead of Nelson.
Elder, the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, is expected to start after a sprained ankle kept him out of most of Georgia Tech’s last two games.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Lucas said. “B.J. Elder is going to be healthy for this game.”
Oklahoma State isn’t taking Georgia Tech lightly, something that’s hard to do after the Yellow Jackets survived once again to make it to San Antonio. Georgia Tech, which hasn’t won a game in the tournament by more than eight points, defeated Kansas for a thrilling 79-71 overtime victory Sunday.
With Elder missing all but 12 minutes, Jack stepped up, scoring eight of his career-high 29 points in the extra period as the Yellow Jackets reached the Final Four for the first time since 1990.
“A lot was on the line,” Jack said. “B.J. being out, we all knew we had to step up. I just really got it going and kept attacking until the game was over.”
Unflappable Georgia Tech beat Connecticut when the Huskies were ranked No. 1 and also won at Duke and Wake Forest this season. So facing the favored Jayhawks, even without Elder, was nothing they hadn’t been through before.
“A lot of basketball teams across the country are close on the court, but off the court they go their separate ways,” Georgia Tech’s Isma’il Muhammad said. “This team, we all stick together and do things together.
“We’re very close on the court and off the court and I think that contributes to our success.”
After Will Bynum hit a 3-pointer in overtime to break a 71-all tie, Jack went 4-for-4 from the line in the last 47 seconds to seal the win.
Tech’s calm demeanor will be tested at the Alamodome, where the crowd is sure to be firmly on Oklahoma State’s side.
“It’s great, we can have the fans there just like we’re here at Gallagher-Iba (Arena),” Graham said. “With the fans as loud as they are, it’s going to be a great feeling. In New Jersey, the Saint Joe’s fans had us outnumbered, but the Cowboy fans were just as loud.”
Oklahoma State is 2-0 against Georgia Tech, although the teams haven’t met since Nov. 29, 1991, a 78-71 Cowboys victory in the final of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden.
Georgia Tech – F B.J. Elder (15.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg), F Anthony McHenry (3.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg), C Luke Schenscher (8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg), G Jarrett Jack (12.7 ppg, 5.7 apg), G Marvin Lewis (11.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg).
Oklahoma State – F Joey Graham (12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), F Ivan McFarlin (12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg), G John Lucas (15.2 ppg, 4.6 apg), G Daniel Bobik (7.3 ppg, 3.0 apg), G Tony Allen (16.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Georgia Tech – At-large berth; beat No. 14 Northern Iowa 65-60, first round; beat No. 6 Boston College 57-54, second round; beat No. 10 Nevada 72-67, St. Louis regional semifinal; beat No. 4 Kansas 79-71, OT, regional final.
Oklahoma State – Automatic bid, Big 12; beat No. 15 Eastern Washington 75-56, first round; beat No. 7 Memphis 70-53, second round; beat No. 3 Pittsburgh 63-51, East Rutherford regional semifinals; beat No. 1 St. Joseph’s 64-62, regional final.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD:
Georgia Tech – 19-12, 12 years.
Oklahoma State – 35-22, 21 years.