Dec. 2, 2004
Georgia Tech, ranked No. 4 nationally in the Associated Press media poll and by the coaches, attempts to keep its unbeaten record intact Sunday night when the Yellow Jackets host arch-rival Georgia at 8 p.m. in Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
The game will be on national cable television on the Fox Sports Net. Radio coverage can be heard on the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, with flagship station WQXI-AM (790) and Tech student station WREK-FM (91.1) airing the game in Atlanta.
The Yellow Jackets (4-0) have defeated Alabama State (74-37), Illinois-Chicago (60-59), Arkansas-Little Rock (79-54) and Michigan (99-68). Georgia (1-2) comes into the game on the heels of its first victory, a 71-54 decision Wednesday night over Alabama A&M following a pair of losses to Western Kentucky (71-61) and Nevada (58-47).
Tech began the season with its highest national ranking since the 1985-86 squad held the top spot in the preseason AP poll. Tech has been nationally ranked for 21 consecutive weeks dating back to last Dec. 1, when the Jackets were No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship.
With its 31-point victory over Michigan Tuesday night, Tech has won 30 of its last 35 games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets have won 18 consecutive non-conference games at home, and have a 137-8 mark against non-conference opposition at the Thrillerdome since the 1981-82 season.
After Sunday night, Tech is off for five straight days as the Yellow Jackets take fall semester finals. The Jackets resume their schedule Satruday, Dec. 11, against Air Force at Philips Arena. Georgia is one of five opponents in the first six games of Tech’s 2004-05 schedule to have played in the post-season last year.
Tech is led by its senior quintet – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), Tech’s leading scorer who is currently averaging 20.5 points per game; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 8.8 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 11.0 points and 3.0 assists.
They are joined by one of the nation’s best point guards, 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), averaging 14.0 points and 6.8 assists per game while also hitting 54.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 93.8 percent of his free throws.
Muhammad and Bynum have alternated in the starting lineup so far this season, Muhammad starting against Alabama State and Arkansas-Little Rock, and Bynum against Illinois-Chicago and Michigan. The other four have started every games.
Elder, a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards, has taken on a greater share of Tech’s scoring load and has shot the ball better over Tech’s last two-and-a-half games. The senior made 10 of 12 shots from the floor, including 7-of-9 from three-point range, for 27 points Tuesday night against Michigan in his best performance of the season. Elder also hit a trio of big three-point baskets in the final 10 minutes of Tech’s win at Illinois-Chicago, which proved to be the Yellow Jackets’ only field goals during that stretch, then went 4-for-8 from three-point range against UALR.
Jack, Bynum and Schenscher also turned in his best performances of the season Tuesday night. Jack, making a case for himself as one of the nation’s top point guards, scored 16 points and dished out a season-high 11 assists without committing a turnover in 30 minutes. Bynum went 8-for-12 from the floor (3-for-5 from three-point range) for 19 points with three assists, while Schenscher scored 10 points with nine rebounds, both season highs.
Muhammad has been a force defensively and has hit the boards at a rate of 7.5 per game, including 10 against Alabama State and eight against Michigan, while hitting 48.4 percent of his shots from the floor. Schenscher is shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, and Bynum is at an even 50 percent.
Tech’s bench features 6-9 junior Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), who has played very well throughout preseason practice and shown no ill effects from the dislocated knee that kept him out of 13 games last season. Tarver has averaged 4.3 rebounds and blocked a team-high nine shots in four games while averaging 13 minutes.
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively off the bench, and has averaged 3.5 rebounds in little more than six minutes per game.
Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, is coming along slowly but will provide needed help in various roles. The Yellow Jackets’ depth from this group took a blow, however, when Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, suffered a dislocation of his right kneecap late in the Arkansas-Little Rock game and is out indefinitely. Smith had averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 points in two games.
Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-9 forward-center from Clio (pronounced KLY-oh), S.C., combines with Schenscher and Tarver to give the Jackets good size and strength at the center position. He saw his first action against UALR and has scored four points in each of the last two games.
Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., and Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., can supply added scoring punch from the perimeter. Morrow hit two threes against Michigan and has three in the last two games.
QUOTING COACH HEWITT
On Tech’s offensive performance vs. Michigan — “What I felt good about was the fact that we made shots. There was some question about that coming in. Everybody looks at our team and says, you can defend, you can rebound, but can you shoot? Certainly, we got out of the gate shooting the ball poorly. What we talked about as a coaching staff after the first couple of games was that we weren’t passing the ball well. It’s tough to be a good shooter when you’re taking the ball off your shoe tops or jumping up in the air.
“So we refocused in practice going into the Arkansas-Little Rock game, concentrating on making good passes. It showed in the Arkansas-Little Rock game when we shot 47 percent, and we shot an unbelievable percentage Tuesday night. You’re not going to be able to do that every night, obviously. But if we shoot 38 percent from three, we’ll be very pleased with that.”
On Luke Schenscher (10 points, 9 rebounds vs. Michigan) — “We have not been throwing the ball inside enough. We ran some plays for him, and tried to him going. We just remind our guys that he’s a tremendous presence in there.”
On freshman Anthony Morrow (2 three vs. Michigan) — “One thing Anthony Morrow can do is shoot the basketball. After all the zones we saw early, I put some pressure on that young man to step up and play the way he’s capable in practice.”
On Jarrett Jack (16 points, 11 assists, 0 turnovers vs. Michigan) — “He is, in my opinion, one of the best players in college basketball. Matt Doherty listed Jarrett as his top point guard in the country, and in a column asked has any other point guard done what Jarrett Jack has done. It’s amazing to me how much people overlook him. Every year, he gets better and better.
“He does pre-empt me out on the floor. He knows what I want done out on the floor. When a big point guard is playing his game, it’s very tough to take him out. He’s going to score points, get rebounds, get assists, defend with his size and athleticism.
“People can talk all they want about the players they want. We’ve got the best one. We have the guy who, if he keeps playing the way he has beginning last Oct. 16, he has a great chance to be player of the year in the country.”
TECH STOCK TIPS
> Tech’s shooting from the floor has steadily improved over the four games it has played, from 40.6 percent against Alabama State, to 41.1 at Illinois-Chicago, to 47.1 against Arkansas-Little Rock, to the season-high of 54.2-percent Tuesday night against Michigan. The Yellow Jackets are now at 46.2 percent for the season, 36.0 percent from three-point range.
> Five of Tech’s top six players are shooting 46.9 percent or better from the floor, three at 50 percent or higher, yet none of them has enough field goals to qualify for the ACC statistical rankings. One must have made five field goals per game to be listed, and Will Bynum is closest to that average with 19 field goals in four games.
> Tech, which historically has struggled from the free throw line early in the season, has gotten off to a poor start again this year, hitting only 59.4 percent from the stripe thus far. The Yellow Jackets generally have improved in that area as the season has progressed, topping 71 percent in conference games last year.
> Tech has blocked 28 shots in four games, including a career-best six by Theodis Tarver against Alabama State. Tech has allowed opponents to shoot just 33.8 percent from the floor in four games, best in the ACC. The Jackets also top the league in three-point defense (26.2) and are third in scoring defense (54.5).
> Tech has rebounded well, outboarding its four opponents by an average of 9.5 per game, including a 40-32 margin over Michigan Tuesday night. The Jackets have taken 62 offensive rebounds and turned them into 54 total points.
> Tech has 85 assists on 120 field goals, a rate of 70.8 percent. The Jackets had 21 assists on 24 first-half field goals against Michigan Tuesday night, and a season-high 28 assists on 39 field goals for the game.
CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
Defensive pressure, both half-court and full-court, was the catalyst for Georgia Tech all last season and has remained so throughout the first part of Tech’s 2004-05 campaign. Tech has allowed its two opponents to shoot just 33.8 percent (only Michigan has managed 40 percent), which is the best in the ACC.
> Tech has forced 17.5 turnovers per game thus far, blocked 7.0 shots and taken 9.0 steals per game. Its rebounding rate of 45.0 leads the ACC.
> Tech has allowed only 17 teams in its last 42 games to shoot 40 percent or better from the floor. Only four have reached 50 percent.
THREES BEGIN TO DROP
Georgia Tech found three-point shots tough to get in its first two games of the season, making just 9 of 42 attempts from behind the arc. But the Yellow Jackets improved to 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) against Arkansas-Little Rock and 13-of-23 (56.5 percent) Tuesday against Michigan.
The Michigan performance improved the Jackets’ season average to 36 percent, close to its clip of last year, when they ranked third in the ACC. Tech currently is third in the ACC in three-point field goals per game (7.75).
TECH SERIES VS. GEORGIA
> Georgia Tech holds the lead in the all-time series between the two schools, 98-82, and have won 28 of 36 games played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Tech is 65-32 against the Bulldogs all-time in games played in Atlanta.
> Tech coach Paul Hewitt is 1-3 against Georgia in four tries, with the Yellow Jackets’ win coming two years ago the last time the teams met in Atlanta.
> Tech won the last meeting at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, 83-77, in Atlanta on the night before Thanksgiving 2002, when Georgia was ranked 17th in the nation. B.J. Elder came off the bench to score 24 points, leading four Jackets in double figures. Freshmen Jarrett Jack (16 points) and Chris Bosh (15) acquitted themselves well in their first big game.
> The series has been played alternately on the respective schools’ campus since the 1995-96 season, and the Bulldogs have won six of those nine games. Georgia won last year’s meeting in Athens, 83-80 in double-overtime, handing the third-ranked Yellow Jackets their first loss of the season after 12 straight victories. B.J. Elder led Tech with 25 points.
> Since the series moved back to the campuses, the home team has won all but one of the nine games. The exception was Georgia’s 75-70 win at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 6, 2000. The Yellow Jackets have lost all five meetings with Georgia in Athens since the series returned to campus sites in 1995.
> Before the December, 1995 meeting in Athens, the teams played 14 straight years at the Omni in downtown Atlanta, which was located on the site of the current Philips Arena. Tech went 8-6 against the Bulldogs in the facility, including eight of the last 10 before the neutral series ended. The teams have played on neutral sites other than the SEC or Southern Intercollegiate championships only one other time, that comng at the 1960 Gator Bowl Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.
> Twelve of the last 24 meetings have been decided by five points or fewer, 18 by 10 points or less. Three games have gone to overtime, one to three overtimes and one to two.
LEFTOVERS FROM TECH-MICHIGAN
> Georgia Tech is now 3-3 all-time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
> The 99 points Tech scored Tuesday night were the most by the Yellow Jackets since the 2002-03 season opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (a 113-75 romp). It also was the second-highest point total the Jackets have ever achieved against a Big Ten opponent.
> Tech’s 54.2-percent clip from the floor was its best since last Dec. 6 against Tennessee State (60.3 percent).
> Tech’s 56.5-percent clip from three-point range was its best since Jan. 11, 2003 against NC State (57.1 percent, 8-for-14) and its best with more than 20 attempts since Feb. 23, 2002 against Virginia (60 percent, 15-for-25).
> Tech’s 13 three-point field goals were the most since last Feb. 10 against North Carolina (13-for-25).
> Four players reached double-figures in scoring for the second straight game.
> Tech turned the ball over just nine times, its fewest since last Dec. 23 against Marist (5).
> B.J. Elder’s seven threes matched a career high set last year in his 30-point game against North Carolina. His 10-for-12 shooting from the floor (83.3 percent) was a career-best.