Feb. 22, 2007
Demonstrating another late-season surge with five wins in six games, Georgia Tech makes its final regular-season road trip this weekend and its first appearance in the new John Paul Jones Arena with a 3:30 p.m. contest at 24th-ranked Virginia Saturday. The Yellow Jackets are looking for their second road win in conference play this season before closing out the regular season at home against No. 5 North Carolina and Boston College.
Saturday’s game is being broadcast regionally on ABC, and can be seen in Atlanta on WSB-TV, Ch. 2. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network and heard locally on WQXI-AM (790) and WTSH-FM (107.1). A broadcast of the game can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 191.
Tech is 18-9 overall, 6-7 in the ACC, following Wednesday’s 75-61 homecourt win over Wake Forest, and has lost only at Duke in its last six times out. The overall mark is a seven-win improvement over last year’s record and a game better at this point than the 2004-05 team that reached the finals of the ACC Tournament and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Jackets’ current five-wins-in-six-games is their best stretch of winning basketball at this time of year since the 2001-02 season finished out the regular season with eight wins in 10 games.
Tech is in sixth place in the conference standings, a half-game ahead of Clemson, which hosted Duke Thursday night, and one game behind the Blue Devils and Maryland.
Saturday marks the only meeting of the season between Tech and Virginia, which brings an 18-8 overall mark and a 9-4 conference record into Saturday’s game following a 68-60 loss at Miami Wednesday. The Cavaliers, tied for second place with Virginia Tech, had won nine of 10 games before Wednesday’s loss.
Series vs. Virginia
> Georgia Tech has won six of the last seven, 10 of the last 12, and 17 of the last 21 meetings with Virginia. Tech also has three wins in its last four trips to Charlottesville.
> Since Tech joined the ACC, the Yellow Jackets are 34-26 against Virginia.
> This is Tech’s first opportunity to play in Virginia’s new John Paul Jones Arena. The Yellow Jackets were 10-16 against Virginia at University Hall, the Cavaliers’ former homecourt. It is Tech’s best winning percentage on an ACC foe’s home court. Tech snapped a 16-game road losing streak in the ACC with its 73-68 victory over Virginia in Charlottesville on Jan. 9, 2001.
> Tech is 1-0 against Virginia teams coached by Dave Leitao, and is 9-2 against Virginia under Paul Hewitt, including all three meetings in Hewitt’s first season of 2000-01.
> Last season: In the only meeting between the two teams in 2005-06, Tech won a defensive struggle, 63-54, limiting Virginia to 27.5-percent shooting (0-13 from three-point range) while the Cavs’ Sean Singletary scored just 10 points on 23 shots from the floor. Jeremis Smith led four Tech players in double figures with 17.
> Tech and Virginia have played to overtime five times since the 1983-84 season, including a 72-71 triple-overtime win for Tech in Atlanta on Jan. 23, 1984, and an 88-85 double-overtime triumph for Virginia in Charlottesville on Jan. 22, 1995. Six of the last eight meetings have been decided by six points or less, and 24 of the teams’ 57 meetings since the Jackets joined the ACC have been decided by five points or less.
Georgia Tech has not put together a string of winning basketball at this time of the season since the 2001-02 team closed out the regular year with eight wins in 10 games, including seven-of-nine in the ACC. Tech’s 5-1 record for February is its best since that year and better than any of the Yellow Jackets three NCAA Tournament teams under Paul Hewitt.
Tech’s 2004 Final Four team was 4-4 in February before making its remarkable March run, and the 2004-05 group went 4-3 in February. The 2001 NCAA team was 4-4 during the month.
Following Tech’s win over Wake Forest Wednesday, the Yellow Jackets have a chance to make it even better by closing out the regular season against three of the top four teams in the current ACC standings — Virginia, North Carolina and Boston College.
Market Fluctuations Tied to Defense
Tech has seen its season cycle up and down like the stock market, with its fortunes tied primarily to defense. Tech has allowed just 61.3 points a game during its current streak of five wins in six games, which followed a streak of four straight losses (78.8 ppg).
The Yellow Jackets began the season with five straight wins (67.8 ppg), including wins over Purdue and No. 11 Memphis in the first two rounds of the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational. Then came three losses in the next four games to UCLA (Maui championship game), Miami and Vanderbilt as Tech approached fall semester final exams (81.0 ppg).
Coming out of finals, Tech won seven of its next eight games, including homecourt wins over state-rival Georgia, 11th-ranked Duke and Florida State, playing with renewed vigor on the defensive end of the floor (60.4 ppg allowed).
Quick Look at Tech
Georgia Tech has utilized the same starting lineup for its last six games, led by freshmen Javaris Crittenton at the point guard spot and Thaddeus Young at the samll forward. Juniors Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey have filled the off-guard, big forward and center positions.
Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, is the trigger man, averaging 14.6 points (16th in the ACC) as well as 5.6 assists per game (third in the ACC), while hitting better than 40 percent of his three-point field goal tries. Crittenton has averaged a team-high 16.5 points in Tech’s ACC games (8th in the ACC), has played an average of 34.6 minutes in those games and tops ACC freshmen in scoring, assists and steals in league games.
Young, a 6-8 small forward, has been around the team lead in scoring nearly all season, currently second at 13.7 points per game (18th in the ACC). The Memphis, Tenn., native has averaged 13.2 points in Tech’s ACC games in 2007 (played only briefly at Miami in December due to knee tendinitis), and has made 48.9 percent of his shots from the floor in conference play.
Tech’s inside game is carried by two veterans in Jeremis Smith, a 6-8 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, and Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-10 junior from Clio, S.C.. Smith, the only Tech player to start every game this season, gives Tech muscle inside on defense and on the boards, averaging 8.5 points and a team-high 5.7 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (58.7 percent) and has averaged 6.5 boards over Tech’s last six games.
Since returning to the starting lineup for the Centenary game on Dec. 18, Dickey has posted eight double-figure efforts and has made 62.7 percent of his field goal attempts in ACC games (58.4 percent overall). Dickey averages 9.0 points per game against the conference, 8.0 points and 5.4 rebounds overall this season.
Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 junior who has reached double figures in 11 of Tech’s last 15 games, has started the last six since Feb. 3 against Clemson. The Charlotte, N.C., native has averaged 10.4 points in ACC games, third-best on the team, and 9.4 points per game for the season.
Off the bench, Mario West, a 6-5 senior guard from Douglasville, Ga. (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.7 steals), has been the Jackets’ catalyst on defense and logged important backup minutes at point guard, and has come through on the offensive end in three of Tech’s bigger wins this season. Tech has gotten a big lift in its last five games from 6-10 post player Alade Aminu, a sophomore from Stone Mountain, who has averaged 4.7 points over that stretch after not having appeared in any of Tech’s first eight ACC games.
Also averaging double-digit minutes is 6-8 freshman Zach Peacock of Miami, who started the first nine games of the season and averages 5.8 points and 3.0 rebounds as Tech’s backup center and power forward, and 6-5 sophomore D’Andre Bell of Los Angeles, who gave Tech a spark in the last five games with excellent defense and 3.4 points a game. Red-shirt freshman Mouhammad Faye, a 6-10 forward from Dakar, Senegal, has been slowed recently by a bout of the flu, but his biggest contributions come on defense, where his 7-foot-3 wingspan has caused havoc in Tech’s press and in halfcourt defensive situations.
Crittenton Making Case for Rookie of the Year
Freshman Javaris Crittenton has effectively taken over the Yellow Jackets’ floor leadership of late, the driving force behind Tech current run of five wins in six games.
The 6-5 freshman has averaged 20.2 points in over the current run, most recently carrying the Jackets with 29 points in their 63-57 win at Florida State and 22 points with nine assists and six rebounds Wednesday night against Wake Forest. Crittenton also scored 26 points against Clemson and 21 against NC State. The Atlanta native also has hit 49.4 percent of his field goals (40 pct. from three-point range), averaged 5.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, taken 15 steals and gone 27-for-31 at the free throw line.
Crittenton also put together a three-game stretch of ACC games against Clemson, Duke and Florida State in early January in which he averaged 18.7 points (59.4 pct. FG) and 5.3 assists. Tech defeated Duke and FSU and lost to Clemson on a last-second shot.
> Currently, IN ACC GAMES ONLY, Crittenton is the highest-ranked freshman in scoring (16.5 ppg), assists (4.92) and steals (2.15 per game), and No. 2 in free throw percentage (85.2 pct.).
> Six of Crittenton’s seven 20-point games this season have come in ACC games (the other was Purdue on Maui), and Tech has won six of those seven games.
“We’re always better when Javaris plays well, and he’s played well since the first of the year,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “I don’t always hear his name in the conversation for ACC Rookie of the Year, but it’s hard for me to think there’s somebody else who has as much responsibility as a freshman and is playing as well. There are very good freshmen out there, but some of them are surrounded by all-America candidates. Since the first of January, this kid has led this team. No knock on the rest of our guys, but it’s not like he’s got a consistent 18-and-10 guy hanging around. This kid has led our team. When I hear conversations about Rookie of the Year and they don’t mention his name, I wonder, `Am I watching the same season everyone else is watching?'”
Jackets Get Back to Physical Defense
Georgia Tech built its four-game winning streak with strong, physical defense, holding Clemson, NC State, Connecticut, Florida State and Wake Forest each to 65 points or fewer. The 52 points by Connecticut were the fewest allowed to a major conference opponent this year, and the Huskies’ 30.9-percent shooting from the floor was the second-lowest figure for any Tech foe this year (only Troy shot worse, 30.3 pct.).
> In the six games, Tech has held the opposition to 41.6-percent shooting from the floor, well below its norm of 47.3 percent for the league this year.
> The Yellow Jackets have forced 102 turnovers, (17 per game, resulting in 19.6 points a game), 62 of them directly by steal, and have a 34.7-to-28.2 average rebound advantage.
> Tech has been even more dominant after intermission of these six games, limiting opponents to 35.0 percent from the floor, 30 percent from three-point range, forcing 44 turnovers (31 by steal), and outrebounding the teams by 4.8 per game.
> In ACC games, Tech leads the conference in steals as it does in all games, and has risen to the middle of the pack in most statistical categories — 6th in scoring defense, 4th in turnovers forced and 4th in rebound margin.
Defense, Part Two
Each of Tech’s last six games has featured an extended run of dominant defense …
> Tech went on an 18-4 run over a seven-minute stretch in the first half against Clemson on Feb. 3, then held Clemson to 36.4-percent shooting (3-of-15 on threes) in the second half, never allowing its lead to fall below 10.
> Against NC State, Tech blanked the Wolfpack 18-0 over a stretch of 4:05 in the second half, and held them without a field goal for more than 14 minutes.
> Tech outscored Connecticut 20-6 over the first 12:34 of the second half in Sunday’s game, while holding the Huskies to 28.1-percent from the for in the half.
> At FSU, Tech held the Seminoles without a point for nearly 10 minutes in the second half, and without a field goal for 12:34. FSU shot just 26.1 percent after halftime.
> At Duke, Tech opened the second half by holding the Blue Devils to one field goal over the first six minutes, reducing a 41-26 halftime deficit to 44-34.
> Tech limited Wake Forest to just six points in the first 10-1/2 minutes, and forced 10 turnovers in forging a 36-22 lead at intermission.
Quoting Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Hewitt
On Tech’s recent play – “I think we’re getting closer and closer to reaching our potential. [Wednesday night] we did a decent job defensively, and we did a great job on the boards, which has been a major emphasis over the last month or so.”
On the increasing importance of each game down the stretch – “With those younger guys, it’s a constant learning process. You prepare them to play. You just to get better and learn the game, and the rest of that stuff comes. In terms of the magnitude of the games, there’s no need in discussing all that. They know it’s a big game. The big thing is to keep learning and understanding the game so that when something isn’t going right, you have something to fall back on. We’re learning more things to fall back on.”