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Jackets Home for Holiday Hoops

Dec. 14, 2006

ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s basketball team is back home for five games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum over the holiday season, beginning with a 7 p.m. Monday night tilt against Centenary, which is returning a trip the Yellow Jackets took to face the Gentlemen last January.

With fall semester finals over Friday, Tech head coach Paul Hewitt hopes the time off from classes will help his team re-focus and re-energize as it prepares for the resumption of conference play Jan. 6.

“This is crucial, because once you get into January, the games come up almost every third day,” said Hewitt. “You don’t have as much time to adjust, and you have to reduce your practice time. The next three weeks are crucial for us getting back to guarding and doing the things that we were doing early in the year to be a good defensive team.”

Following Monday night’s game, Tech hosts Georgia on Friday (Dec. 22) before breaking for Christmas, then entertains Troy (Dec. 28), St. Francis of Pa. (Dec. 30) and Winston-Salem State (Jan. 3) in succession before resuming conference play.

A limited number of single tickets – that is, for single seats in between seats already sold – for Monday’s game will be available for sale at Gate 1 beginning at 5:30 p.m. Monday’s game is not televised, but can be heard on radio over the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network. The game can be heard locally on WQXI-AM (790) and WTSH-FM (107.1), and nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 192.

Live video streaming can be accessed on the Internet at http://gatech.playonsports.tv/.

The Jackets bring a 6-3 overall record into Monday night’s game, having lost three of their last four games to drop out of both national polls. Tech fell at Vanderbilt, 73-64, last Saturday in its last game before breaking for fall semester final exams, and lost a 90-82 decision at Miami the Sunday before in its first ACC game.

Tech is undefeated at home this season (4-0), most recently having defeated Penn State, 77-73, on Nov. 28. The Yellow Jackets are 70-23 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum under head coach Paul Hewitt, including a 41-5 mark in non-conference games. Tech has won 28 of its last 29 non-ACC games at home.

Tech and Centenary have met only once before, last Jan. 10 at the CenturyTel Center in Bossier City, La., when the Yellow Jackets took off on a 12-0 run and defeated the Gents, 85-69. The Centenary team (4-5 pending a Saturday game at SMU) that takes the floor Monday night will be quite different from the one the Jackets faced last year.

“They have eight first-year players, two red-shirts and six recruits,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “They’ve got a whole new cast, and they’re playing some good basketball. They did not play well against Texas Tech, but one of their inside guys was out.”

Tech’s regular starting lineup this season has included freshman Javaris Crittenton at point guard, sophomore Lewis Clinch and freshman Thaddeus Young on the wings, junior Jeremis Smith at strong forward and freshman Zach Peacock at center.

Steadiest among the group has been sophomore Lewis Clinch, who leads the Yellow Jackets and ranks fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 17.4 points a game. Having reached double digits in each game, the 6-3 guard from Cordele, Ga., also ranks fifth in the ACC in field goal percentage (57.3) and second in three-point percentage (51.0). He has scored at least 20 points four times this season.

The other returning player in Tech’s starting lineup is Jeremis Smith, a 6-8 strong forward from Fort Worth, Texas. Smith, a junior, has improved offensively and is just as tough on the boards and on defense as he was a year ago, averaging 10.6 points and a team-high 6.4 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (66.7 percent) and has six double-digit efforts in nine games.

Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, was a McDonald’s All-American his senior year at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and has averaged 13.9 points (45.2 pct. FG) and 5.4 assists, third-best in the ACC. Young, a 6-8 McDonald’s All-American from Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tenn., averages 13.3 points while hitting 49.4 percent of his field goal tries and pulling down 5.1 rebounds per game. He has two double-doubles this year, including team highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds last time out at Vanderbilt.

Peacock, a 6-8 all-state performer from Norland High School in Miami, was a surprise inclusion in the starting five at the outset of the season. Demonstrating the effort and toughness on defense Hewitt wants in the post, Peacock has averaged 8.1 points and 3.2 rebounds while making 56 percent of his field goals. He scored 13 against Purdue and 12 vs. UCLA out in Maui.

Off the bench, four players are averaging double-digit minutes, including 6-10 junior center Ra’Sean Dickey (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 57.4 FG pct.); 6-5 senior guard Mario West (4.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 63 pct. FG); 6-10 red-shirt freshman forward Mouhammad Faye (3.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg) and 6-5 junior guard Anthony Morrow (5.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg), who continues to work his way back from a lower-back injury suffered in the summer.

The Yellow Jackets remain one of the ACC’s best offensive teams, ranking No. 2 in scoring offense (83.7 ppg) and field goal percentage (50.6 pct.) and third in three-point field foal percentage (38.6 pct.). Five players in Tech’s regular nine-man rotation have hit better than 50 percent of their shots, and two are over 60 percent (Mario West 63.0, Jeremis Smith 66.7). Freshmen Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton are both better than 45 percent.

Defensively, however, Tech has given up an average of 81.0 points over its last four contests, while its opponents have shot 55.3 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from three-point range. In the ACC, Tech ranks no higher than eighth in any of the defensive categories, with the exception of steals (third at 9.3 per game).

“The three games prior (to Vanderbilt), we did not guard well at all,” said Hewitt. “I thought we did a better job against Vanderbilt, but just those turnovers (25), especially the ones that occurred in the middle of the floor that enable them to come down the floor for easy transition baskets. It’s tough to defend against that. Our level of energy was back up, and our defensive intensity was back to where it was prior to the UCLA game, but we just didn’t do a good job of holding on to the basketball.”

IN THE CLINCH

Lewis Clinch, the ACC’s third-leading scorer among freshmen last year, is off to a fast start, leading the Yellow Jackets in scoring at 17.4 points per game. He ranks fifth in the ACC in scoring, fifth in field goal percentage (57.3 pct.) and second in three-point field goal percentage (51.0) and three-pointers made (2.78 per game).

The 6-3 guard from Cordele, Ga., has been the steadiest performer on the team to this point, scoring not less than 13 points in any game and hitting not less than 40 percent of his shots (4-10 vs. Purdue and Memphis) in a game. His success has been a product of an intense off-season program which included taking between 800-1,000 shots a day from various ranges, as well as drills to improve his ballhandling, defense and vertical jump.

Among the ACC’s guards, Clinch is the second-leading scorer (Jack McClinton of Miami leads the league at 21.0 ppg), and is one of only two guards listed among the league’s field goal percentage leaders (Duke’s DeMarcus Nelson is eighth at 54.9).

Over his last 17 games, including the last eight of his freshman year, he is 40-of-79 (50.6 percent) from behind the three-point arc.

Clinch made the all-tournament team in Maui, averaging 17 points while reaching double digits in all three games, including 21 against No. 5 UCLA.

Clinch averaged 8.9 points a game as a freshman, starting Tech’s last eight games of the season. Over that stretch, he canned 15 of 30 three-balls. Against ACC teams last year, Clinch hit 50.9 percent of his three-point attempts (28-of-55), averaged 9.7 points and 2.1 assists.

COMPARING THE FRESHMEN

Georgia Tech’s Javaris Crittenton (13.9 points per game) and Thaddeus Young (13.3) rank third and fourth among the ACC’s freshmen in scoring, while Crittenton ranks second among first-year players in assist average (5.4), and Young is sixth in rebounds (5.1).

Young, who missed the Penn State game due to tendinitis in his left knee and scored just two points (1-6 FG) in 20 minutes at Miami, bounced back to lead the Jackets with 19 points and 10 rebounds at Vanderbilt. The 6-8 Memphis native established season highs for field goals and attempts (9-of-16) and steals (3) as well as matching his season-best efforts for scoring and rebounds.

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