Feb. 13, 2006
With its longest losing streak since the 1980-81 season now behind it, Georgia Tech returns to the road for a pair of games this week, beginning Wednesday at 23rd-ranked North Carolina in a 7 p.m. game at the Dean Smith Center. Wednesday’s game is the only meeting between Tech and UNC this year, and the Jackets are looking for their first win in Chapel Hill since 1996.
The game is being nationally televised on ESPN, with radio coverage provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network (WQXI-AM 790, WTSH-FM 107.1, WREK-FM 91.1 in Atlanta). The game can also be heard on radio nationally on XM Satellite Ch. 191.
Tech (10-12 overall, 3-8 ACC this season) snapped an eight-game skid Sunday with a 71-68 home-court victory over 16th-ranked NC State. It improved the Yellow Jackets’ record to 2-4 this season against Top-25 teams. Tech remains tied for 10th place in the ACC stsndings with Virginia Tech, a game and a half ahead of Wake Forest.
North Carolina (15-6 overall, 6-4 ACC) has won three of its last four games, including an 80-70 win at Miami Sunday night. The Tar Heels are in fourth place in the ACC standings, a half-game behind Boston College and 1-1/2 games behind NC State.
Sunday’s win notwithstanding, the Yellow Jackets have played more tightly-contested games on the road than at home over the last month, having lost five road games by an average of 5.6 points, last three by a TOTAL of four points (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Florida State).
Tech and North Carolina have played some close games in the Smith Center since the Jackets’ last victory in Chapel Hill (92-83 in overtime on Feb. 10, 1996), with four games being decided by less than 10 points.
The Tar Heels took a 91-69 win in the teams’ only regular-season meeting last year, in Chapel Hill, but the Yellow Jackets turned the tables in the ACC Tournament semifinals with a 78-75 triumph.
Wednesday marks the 32nd time that Georgia Tech has faced the defending NCAA champion in a regular-season game. The Yellow Jackets are 7-24 all-time in such meetings, last winning one against Maryland during the 2002-03 season. The last time Tech faced North Carolina as a defending NCAA champion, it defeated the Tar Heels twice during the 1993-94 season.
Tech’s victory over NC State Sunday was its most complete effort since the Yellow Jackets defeated Vanderbilt on Jan. 3. Tech shot 54 percent from the floor, including 53.8 percent (7-of-13) from three-point range, assisted in 19 of 27 baskets and committed just 15 turnovers. With the exception of a brief one-point Wolfpack lead at the 15:13 mark of the second half, the Yellow Jackets led for most of the game, unlike the previous game at Florida State, which occurred after the Yellow Jackets held a 14-point lead (70-56) with 9:17 left.
In five of the eight losses during Tech’s losing streak, Tech led (four times) or was tied (Miami) at the half.
In an effort to reverse the trend, head coach Paul Hewitt inserted three different players in the starting lineup for the Florida State game, creating the Yellow Jackets’ sixth different starting lineup this season. Sophomore guard Anthony Morrow and sophomore center Ra’Sean Dickey remain in the lineup, and were joined by junior guard Mario West, senior forward Theodis Tarver and freshman guard Lewis Clinch.
The revamped lineup has produced better aggressiveness and offensive punch, with the Jackets hitting 52.3 percent of their field goal attempts and 18 of 31 of their three-point attempts in the last two games. Against FSU, Tech made 11-of-18 three-point shots, a 61.1-percent rate that was the best the Jackets have achieved in a game under Paul Hewitt.
The brightest spot for Georgia Tech over the last several games has been the emergence of sophomore center Ra’Sean Dickey, who has averaged 15.0 points and 6.9 rebounds over his last 10 games, shooting 65.6 percent and posting three double-doubles.
The 6-9 native of Clio, S.C., is averaging 12.4 points and 6.5 rebounds for the season, ranking second in the ACC in field goal percentage (60.9 pct.). In conference games, he has made 62.8 percent, which leads the ACC.
Anthony Morrow, the ACC’s leading three-point shooter (44.1 pct.), has been the only player to start every games this season, giving Dickey and Tech’s other post players room to operate inside. A 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., Morrow ranks 10th in the ACC in scoring at 16.5 points. One of four Tech players averaging in double figures, Morrow has averaged 15.5 points and shoots 44.4 percent from three-point range in ACC games.
Mario West, a 6-4 junior from Douglasville, Ga., who is Tech’s best on-the-ball defender, is back in the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 28. West, who shares point guard time with sophomore Zam Fredrick, averaged 5.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game and owns Tech’s best assist-turnover ratio.
Also in the starting five for the last two games are Theodis Tarver, a 6-9 senior from Monroe, La., who started eight games earlier in the year, and Lewis Clinch, a 6-3 freshman from Cordele, Ga., who made his first college start at FSU. Tarver gives the Jackets a strong defensive presence in the post while averaging 3.7 points (53.6 FG pct.) and 3.0 rebounds. Clinch, the ACC’s fifth-leading freshman scorer (7.7 ppg) gives Tech an additional outside shooting threat (43.2 pct. in ACC games).
Off the bench in the post, Tech has Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 sophomore from Fort Worth, Texas, who started Tech’s first 20 games this season and has posted eight double-doubles. Fully recovered from a dislocated kneecap that sidelined him for 17 games last year, Smith averages 12.0 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, second best in the ACC.
On the perimeter, Fredrick, a 6-0 sophomore from St. Matthews, S.C., has started 18 games this season, averages 10.2 points a game and shot 38.9 percent from three-point range in ACC games. D’Andre Bell, a 6-5 wingman from Los Angeles, Calif., has started 11 games at a wing spot, averaging 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds for the season.
COMMENTS FROM HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt
Despite the fact that you had lost eight games in a row, your team really played hard in all those games and they also played hard yesterday. How did you keep your team from getting upset about the way things were going?
“I thought there were some games during that stretch where we didn’t play quite as hard, but this group has figured out that we can’t blame anybody but ourselves. We can’t hang our heads. I’d say that over the last ten days, we’ve practiced extremely hard every single time. I guess that’s all part of the process when you’re trying to become a good team.”
On your overall thoughts about North Carolina.
“I’ve watched them on and off throughout the year, and they play extremely hard. I’ve started watching tape on them and one thing that those guys do is that they try and beat you on every possession. That’s the type of mentality we have to recapture around here.”
Can you talk about Dickey and how he’s stepped up his game recently?
“He’s starting to understand the little things that you have to do. He’s a gifted scorer and can rebound well. Yesterday, he did the little things that really helped us. We talked about keeping Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman off the boards, and one of the key stats was that those two guys didn’t get any offensive rebounds. Defensively, off the ball, he is much better than he was last year and even and the beginning of this season.
“The thing he did better yesterday than at any point this year was screening. He did a nice job of finding the guys that were guarding Anthony Morrow and Lewis Clinch, and using those screens to create good post opportunities for them. He’s enormously talented, but as he improves and does more of the little things, he has a good chance of becoming one of the star players in this league.”
Do you think the home court is losing some of its magic?
“I think that losing veteran point guards who knew how to manage a game down the stretch has led to some inconsistent play, and teams tend to take certain things for granted when they’re at home. Ironically enough, we’ve actually played our best basketball on the road. Our record doesn’t indicate it, but I think we’ve played very consistent basketball and have lost some close games.”
When you look at the way UNC has played this year after losing all their starters like you did from the previous year, what is it that impresses you the most about them?
“The consistency and effort has been very impressive. They also have two older guys in Terry and Noel who have done a good job not only statistically but also in their effort. They’ve pulled the younger guys along and made them understand how Coach Williams wants them to play. They’ve always been able to get out in transition and run the floor which creates a certain mindset of how they want to attack the game offensively.
“What I’ve found myself doing is seeing too many of the same mistakes over and over in practice. Obviously, I’m not at their (UNC) practices, but it seems like his players have been consistent in their effort, and that’s something that we haven’t done.”
How difficult is it to replace an entire starting lineup the way you and Roy Williams have had to do?
“I’ve tried not look at it as a difficult task, but you just have to accept that it’s a part of college basketball. Especially with the way the rules were over the past four or five years with the 5/8 rule and kids going pro early, I think you’ll see more stability now with the 5/8 rule being repealed and the 19-year age limit. Once again, I don’t look at it as a difficult task, and I consider myself very lucky to have this job and just coaching in the ACC is a privilege.
“This is a talented basketball team, and we shouldn’t be 3-8 in the ACC, but we are. We have to try to do something about it down the stretch, and fortunately, I’ve been in this situation before when we won seven of our last nine league games three years ago. Hopefully, our coaching staff can draw on that experience and try and keep these guys moving forward. We have a great opportunity on Wednesday night to play in a great venue against a great team, so we’ll see what happens.”