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Jackets Open ACC Slate With Miami, Virginia at Home

Jan. 4, 2005

ATLANTA –

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Georgia Tech, ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press and No. 10 in the ESPN/USA Today rankings this week, opens its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule this week with a pair of home games, 7 p.m. Thursday against new conference member Miami and 8 p.m. Saturday against Virginia at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Thursday’s game will be televised in the ACC region on FSN South, Sunshine Network and Comcast SportsNet, while Saturday’s game can be seen on the Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot Sports Network (In Atlanta on WATL, Ch. 36).

Both games can be heard on the Georgia Tech/ISP Radio Network, in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790), while student station WREK-FM (91.1) will carry the Virginia game only. XM satellite radio will carry the Tech broadcast nationally, Thursday on Channel 180 and Saturday on Channel 181.

This is the first time since the 2000-01 season (head coach Paul Hewitt’s first year) that the Yellow Jackets have opened their league schedule at home, and the first time since 1987-88 that they have opened with two home games.

Tech (9-2), like last year’s Final Four team, finished its pre-conference slate with a loss in overtime on the road, dropping a 70-68 decision Saturday at No. 2 Kansas. (The Jackets, who lost at Georgia on Jan. 3 of last year in double-OT, went on to go 4-4 on the road in the ACC.) Tech began this season 7-0 but has split its last four games, falling to No. 22 Gonzaga on Nov. 18 (85-73) and Kansas. Miami (9-2) comes into Alexander Memorial Coliseum having won eight straight games after a 1-2 start, including a 76-58 win over Norfolk State Sunday.

Tech remains the ACC leader in several defensive categories, including points allowed (56.1), field goal percentage defense (.349), three-point defense (.279) and defensive rebounds (29.2 per game). The Jackets are third in total rebounding (41.6) and fifth in rebound margin (+7.1).

The Yellow Jackets are 7-0 at home this season, including big wins over Michigan and Georgia, and have won 33 of their last 38 games in the Thrillerdome dating back to the final two home games of 2001-02.

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 26 consecutive weeks dating back to last Dec. 1, when the Jackets were No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship.

Georgia Tech is led by its five-man senior class – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), who is currently averaging 13.2 points per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.1 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 11.0 points and 2.9 assists.

They are joined by one of the nation’s best point guards, 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), who leads Tech in every offensive category, including scoring average (14.3), assists (4.9), field goal percentage (59.8), three-point shooting (42.1) and free throw percentage (88.6)

From those six have come Tech’s starting five in each game so far. Jack, Elder and Schenscher have started every game, while the other three have taken turns coming off the bench.

Jack, making a case for himself as one of the nation’s top point guards, has boosted the Jackets’ outside shooting, and scored a game-high 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting Saturday at Kansas. He was named the ACC Player of the Week for his effort. He ranks third in the ACC in field goal percentage, second in free throw percentage, sixth in assists.

Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and fifth blocked shots (2.1 per game), is hitting 55.3 percent of his shots from the floor (despite a 1-for-7 day at Kansas) and has averaged 10.9 points and 8.1 rebounds over his last eight games. Bynum led Tech with a career-high 28 points in its loss to Gonzaga, and has reached double figures in four of his last five games. Muhammad has made 48.8 percent of his field goals and has averaged 10.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in his last three games.

Elder, a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards, has struggled over his last five games, reaching double figures only once (16 pts. vs. Gonzaga) and hitting less than 30 percent of his shots from the floor (5-of-18 from three). He strained his left hamstring muscle in the first half of Tech’s game at Kansas, will not play against Miami and is doubtful for Saturday’s game with Virginia.

Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, has played well recently, combining for 26 points against Charleston Southern and 41 against Lafayette. The trio of Ra’Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow and Zam Fredrick all played career-high minutes against Charleston Southern and also logged major minutes against Lafayette.

Morrow, in particular, has given the Jackets a lift at both ends of the floor, averaging 12.7 points over his last three games, including a career-best 20 against Lafayette, when he was 6-of-9 from three-point range. The 6-5 wingman was 3-of-5 from the floor at Kansas.

Dickey, a 6-9 forward-center from Clio (pronounced KLY-oh), S.C., has shot 60.6 percent from the floor for the season (20-of-33), and scored a career-high 15 points against Lafayette (6-of-10 FG) with six rebounds and two blocks. He has become Tech’s No. 2 center behind Luke Schenscher.

Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., scored six points each against Charleston Southern and Lafayette, knocking down a pair of threes against Lafayette.

Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), a 6-9 junior who has shown no ill effects from the dislocated knee that kept him out of 13 games last season, is logging more minutes at the power forward position in the absence of freshman Jeremis Smith. Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively on the perimeter.

QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt

On Tech entering conference play – “We’re playing hard, but we’re not playing as intelligently as we should be. Just little things, closing the game out. Defensively, I think we’re still very good, but we’re not as sharp mentally as we can be.

“We’re at the point of the year now where you have to scratch out every win you can. You don’t want to look back on it, but when you have an opportunity to get a quality win like [Kansas], it stings a little bit more because every win from this point on is very precious.”

On early talk about Tech being a target for teams on its schedule – “Gonzaga was ranked, Kansas was ranked. Kansas probably had a bulls-eye on its back, they were No. 2 on their home court. We went after them because we had slipped in the polls and we realized it was an opportunity to move back up. A lot of times, that stuff is blown out of proportion. These kids want to compete. They play really hard. You look at all those non-conference games going on around the country, everything is so magnified. You have to play well to win. You have to play smart to win. You can’t fault our effort. When you’re up six with 4:30 to go, you have to be able to close it out. We’re up four with 2:30 left in overtime, and we can’t allow a guy to get a three off.

On Luke Schenscher (1-of-7 from the floor vs. Kansas) – “He’s capable of playing better. We got back (from Kansas) Saturday night, and he was in the gym Sunday working on his low-post scoring for two hours. He’s been a little loose with the ball. He scored seven points from the foul line, but there were times when he went to turn and shoot, and he got jostled a little. He needs to be a little bit more rigid, a little lower in his stance. If his technique is a little sounder, some of those shots would drop … We could do a better job of getting the ball to him in better position.”

On missing B.J. Elder – “B.J.’s our leading scorer. But the bottom line is everybody is going through injuries now. It’s that time of the year. And it’s not like the non-conference schedule where there was more time between games. Now they’re coming two and three a week. But everybody is dealing with it. To win a conference championship, number one, you’ve got to be healthy. Number two, you’ve got to play well.

“We have enough depth. B.J.’s going to be out one to three weeks. If he’s not back by the middle of next week, the most he’s going to miss is three or four ball games.”

“It was pretty rough on him for a couple of days, but now he’s resigned himself to getting this thing right and not come back too early and reinjure himself. The doctors are more inclined to wait rather than push him back. We have four games (in the next two weeks), then we have a week off. Realistically, I don’t think it would be off-base to say that he might not be back until Virginia Tech on Jan. 22. If he comes back earlier than that, it would be a bonus.”

On winning the ACC regular season – “My goal is to have the program in the top three or four in the ACC. If you’re in the top three or four in the ACC, then you’re in a position to win the national championship. That’s how you’re judged these days. It would be pretty prestigious to win the ACC regular season championship. But if you’re in the top three or four, you are in position to make a run. We’re all judged by what we do at the end of the year.”

On the loss at Kansas – “There were some breakdowns there. We allowed guys to get some shots where we wanted to make them do other things. Kansas is a very, very good basketball team, despite playing without Simien. It’s not a devastating loss, but when you have an opportunity to close a team out, that’s what’s frustrating. The kids have been pretty resilient. They’ve bounced back, and I want them to move past it.”

On Anthony Morrow – “He can score in a lot of different ways. He’s probably not as versatile as B.J. He doesn’t post like B.J., but he’s a very accurate three-point shooter, and he is very comfortable scoring off the dribble. He’s got an excellent mid-range game, which he really hasn’t shown yet. As he gets more comfortable, he will be consistently an outstanding three-point shooter. He’s a very good positional defender. But he’s like any other freshman, he’s got a little work to do.”

“He’s a confident kid, I tell you. If you ask him, he’ll say just put me out there anywhere and I’ll be fine. He’s not a kid that’s going to complain about minutes. He’s ready whenever you call on him.”

On Theodis Tarver – “We’ve been trying to get Theo more comfortable at the four position. We’ve been working him pretty hard at the four spot the last three or four days in practice. He’s starting to get a better feel for it, and I expect him to start playing better basketball there.

TECH VS. MIAMI

> Georgia Tech has won two of three prior meetings with Miami. The most recent meeting between the two schools occurred in December of 1997 as part of the Orange Bowl Classic doubleheader at Miami Arena, the Hurricanes’ home court until the team moved into the on-campus Convocation Center last year. The Yellow Jackets, led that year by senior forward Matt Harpring, won that game, 69-61.

> Tech played Miami twice under former head coach Whack Hyder, losing the first-ever meeting in the series by 22 points in 1953, then taking a six-point homecourt victory in 1967. That was the only previous visit by the Hurricanes to Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and the 90-84 Tech win has been the highest scoring game in the brief series. Ted Tomasovich led the Yellow Jackets with 27 points.

> The Hurricanes are playing their first season under former Texas assistant Frank Haith, who replaced Perry Clark. Clark was an assistant coach under Bobby Cremins for six seasons (1982-88) before becoming the head coach at Tulane (11 years) and Miami (four years).

> Neither Paul Hewitt nor Haith has ever faced a team coached by the other during their head coaching careers, nor has either coach faced each other’s current school. The last time the two teams met, in 1997, Bobby Cremins was in his 17th season at Georgia Tech, and current Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton was the head man at Miami.

TECH STOCK TIPS

> Tech has barely shot 40 percent from the floor in each of its two games against ranked teams. At Kansas Saturday, the Yellow Jackets shot 40.4 percent overall, including a 10-of-12 performance from Jarrett Jack.

> Tech has shot 49.9 percent in its seven home games this season, 38.8 percent from three-point range, but only 63 percent from the free throw line.

> In the last six games, Tech has been to the free throw line 25.3 times on average, compared with 17.3 times over the first four games. The Jackets have made 66.7 percent from the stripe over that stretch.

> Since going 0-for-2 from three-point range against Air Force, breaking a 546-game streak with at least one three, Tech is 39-for-105 (37.1 percent) in the last four games. Tech took only 12 threes at Kansas, but made six of them.

> Tech’s three freshmen are averaging 12.4 points a game combined.

> Tech and North Carolina are the two most experienced teams in the ACC, each with 55 or more total starts among juniors and seniors. Tech has the most starts by seniors, with 44, along with 11 starts from junior Jarrett Jack. The Tar Heels have a total of 62 starts from juniors and seniors combined.

> Tech has played only two games closer than 12 points, a 60-59 victory at Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 22 and a 70-68 loss at Kansas. The average margin of the other games has been 29.6 points.

> Tech has held eight of 10 opponents under 60 points this season, and has held five of those under 50.

> Tech’s top five scorers are all shooting better than 43 percent from the floor, two higher than 50 percent. But only Jarrett Jack (59.8 percent) meets the NCAA minimum of five field goals made per game to be ranked among the conference or national leaders (an indication of Tech’s offensive balance). Luke Schenscher (55.3 percent) and Isma’il Muhammad (48.8) percent are next.

> Tech has 193 assists on 311 field goals, a rate of 62.1 percent, and ranks third in the ACC in assist average (17.55 per game). The Jackets’ season lows in assists, not coincidentally, have come against Gonzaga and Kansas (11 each).

> Tech has been outrebounded in only three games, but two of those instances, Gonzaga and Kansas, have resulted in losses.

DEFENSE REMAINS TECH’S FOUNDATION

Defensive pressure, both half-court and full-court, was the catalyst for Georgia Tech all last season and has remained so throughout the 2004-05 campaign. Tech has allowed its opponents to shoot just 34.9 percent (only Michigan and Gonzaga have managed 40 percent), which is the best in the ACC.

> Tech leads the ACC in scoring defense at 56.1 points per game. The Yellow Jackets have held five opponents under 50 points, and seven foes have failed to score 60.

> Tech has held foes to less than 20 points in a half four times, including 12 by Air Force in the first half, and 14 by James Madison in the first half.

> For the season, Tech has allowed teams to shoot just 27.9 percent from three-point range, the lowest yield in the ACC. The Jackets have held four teams to less than 25 percent. Kansas has had the best success against Tech, making 12 of 26 (46.2 percent), even thought the Jayhawks made just 39.1 percent of their field goal attempts overall.

> Tech has forced 17.5 turnovers per game thus far, blocked 6.6 shots and taken 8.9 steals per game. Its rebound margin of plus-7.1 is fifth-best the ACC, and its rebound average of 41.6 is third-best.

> Tech has allowed only 17 teams in its last 46 games to shoot 40 percent or better from the floor. Only four have reached 50 percent. Kansas, which shot only 39.1 percent overall Saturday, became only the fourth opponent under Paul Hewitt to beat the Jackets while failing to reach 40 percent in a game.

> Tech’s stout defense is not a new phenomenon. The Yellow Jackets ranked first in the ACC in field goal percentage defense in all games (38.8 pct.) last season, were first in league games only (40.8 pct.), and were the sixth-best in NCAA Division I basketball. Tech also led the ACC in both three-point percentage defense in all games (29.7 pct.) and was first league games only (32.2 pct.).

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