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Tech Back on the Road at No. 4 Duke

Feb. 4, 2005

ATLANTA –

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Georgia Tech, which has finished the first half of its ACC schedule at .500, tries for its first road win in the league Saturday when the Yellow Jackets visit No. 4 Duke in a 1 p.m. national network television date at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tech is in a tie for fifth place in the ACC with Maryland at 4-4, while North Carolina leads at 6-1, and Duke and Wake Forest are tied for second at 6-2.

Saturday’s game is being televised nationally on CBS, and airs in Atlanta on WGCL-TV (Ch. 46). Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, and will air in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790) and WREK-FM (91.1), as well as nationally on XM Satellite Radio Channel 180.

The Yellow Jackets (13-6, 4-4) have lost four of six games since a 2-0 start in conference play, but have won two of their last three, including a 102-101 overtime triumph against No. 5 Wake Forest and a 64-61 win over Florida State in their last outing on Wednesday. Tech is, however, winless on the road this season since defeating Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 22, and are just 1-3 against Top-25 foes.

The Blue Devils (16-2, 6-2) are coming off a 92-89 loss at Wake Forest Wednesday night and have lost two of their last three games, including a 75-66 homecourt defeat to Maryland on Jan. 26. Tech is only the third ranked team Duke has faced this season, and the Blue Devils are 1-1 in their first two such encounters.

Saturday’s game features the ACC’s top two teams in scoring defense (Duke is 1, Tech is 2), field goal percentage defense (Tech is 1, Duke is 2) and three-point defense (Tech is 1, Duke is 2). Tech has allowed just 64.9 points per game this season, and opponents are shooting just 37.4 percent from the floor and 29.9 percent from three-point range. Duke, however, has a decided edge over Tech in the offensive categories, averaging 82.6 points per game, shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and 38.8 percent from three-point range. The Blue Devils also lead the ACC in three-point field goals per game (8.6).

Tech continues to struggle offensively, scoring no more than 71 points in any of their last six games except the Wake Forest game (102). The trends are similar in all the shooting categories as well: 54.4 percent from the floor against Wake, but no better than 45.8 percent in the other five games over that stretch: 42.9 percent from three-point range, but no better than 30.8 in the other five games.

The Yellow Jackets have played their entire ACC schedule thus far without leading scorer B.J. Elder (13.2 ppg), who strained his left hamstring in the first half of the game at Kansas. Tech also has had to deal with injuries to backup center Ra’Sean Dickey (hyperextended right knee against Virginia, missed one game), Will Bynum and Anthony McHenry (concussions) and Isma’il Muhammad (knee tendinitis) which have forced Tech to be further shorthanded in games and practice. Freshman Jeremis Smith (dislocated kneecap) has been out since the second game of the season.

Tech, which began the season with its highest national ranking (No. 3) since the 1985-86 squad held the top spot in the preseason AP poll, barely hung onto its top-25 status this week in the AP rankings, which has the Yellow Jackets at No. 25, and are No. 23 in the coaches’ poll. Tech has been nationally ranked for 30 consecutive weeks dating back to last Dec. 1, when the Jackets debuted at No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship. It is the longest running streak in the polls for Tech since a 35-week run that spanned from the 1984-85 season into the middle of the 1986-87 campaign.

In Elder’s absence, Tech has gone with a starting lineup led by 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), who tops Tech in most every offensive category, and 6-0 junior Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), who have become Tech’s primary scorers.

A preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith Awards and called by some the best point guard in the nation, Jack ranks 17th in the ACC in scoring (15.0 ppg), fifth in assists (4.42 per game), seventh in field goal percentage (51.1), ninth in three-point percentage (41.4) and third in free throw percentage (88.1). Bynum has averaged 21.9 points over Tech’s last four games, and leads the Jackets in scoring (16.3 ppg) in ACC games. He is averaging 13.2 points and 2.8 assists per game overall.

They are joined in the lineup by three other seniors in 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 9.8 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game; and 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 5.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Muhammad has scored in double figures in five of his last six games, averaging 13.0 points over that stretch. Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and third in blocked shots (2.32 per game), is hitting 54.3 percent of his shots from the floor and has averaged 9.4 points in league games thus far, while McHenry is averaging 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in ACC games.

Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, has played more and more since December, with 6-9 center Ra’Sean Dickey (Clio, S.C.) and 6-5 wingman Anthony Morrow (Charlotte, N.C.) giving the Yellow Jackets a huge lift since mid-December.

Morrow has made 37.5 percent of his three-pointers this season overall, but has struggled in Tech’s conference losses (1-for-15). He has five double-figure games off the bench this season. Dickey, who has shot 64.9 percent from the floor to lead the team this season, has entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center behind Luke Schenscher and is 17-for-24 from the floor (70.8 pct.) in ACC games.

Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., has averaged more than 12 minutes a game in ACC games, mostly on his defensive prowess, but has given Tech a big lift off the bench offensively in the last two games, scoring 8 points at Maryland and 10 against Florida State while hitting 7-for-11 from the floor in the two games combined.

Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., has given Tech some quality minutes off the bench in the backcourt, while Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), a 6-9 junior, gives Tech more depth in the post positions.

Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 points in Tech’s first two games, suffered a dislocation of his right kneecap late in the Arkansas-Little Rock game on Nov. 26, has returned to practice, but is not yet ready for game action.

QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt

On Tech’s offensive struggles — “I told the guys this after the (FSU) game: I’ve kind of let them down this year so far in that we have not adjusted yet to the loss of B.J.’s points. For some reason, I’ve not been able to get us to move the ball the way we’re supposed to move the ball. That’s what was so refreshing about Mario West tonight. This game is very simple. When you have shots, you take them; if you don’t, you pass it. If you drive and draw a lot of help, you find somebody open.

“I think our seniors are giving great effort, and I think they’re trying almost too hard to make up for the loss. And again, that’s my fault. There’s no question, I’ve done a poor job with these guys. By now, with a veteran team, we should not look so disjointed offensively. We got it to 14, and we’ve got guys dribbling the ball out of bounds, throwing alley-oops to two guys. I don’t know what it is. I can’t put it on them. It’s four weeks that this kid’s been out and we’re still searching for how we’re going to get points.

“Right now, we’re not good offensively. We’re just not. It’s that simple. We’ve got time to get there, but we’re not a good team offensively right now.”

On Tech’s game at Duke — “Duke is an outstansding team, and it’s going to be a great opportunity for our ballclub. At 4-4 in the league, and going on the road to start the second half of the season, we have a chance to go in there and play a very good basketball game.

On five of Tech’s last eight ACC games being on the road — “That’s OK. I keep telling our guys, if we’re any good, none of that stuff matters. If we’re not good, then it becomes a factor.”

How do you defend J.J. Redick? – “With a lot of prayers (laughs). He’s playing really well. Watching him on tape, he’s been very impressive. The most impressive thing is he’s going to the basket better than I ever remember him doing. He legitimately can take you off the dribble. You can’t guard him with one guy. You have to guard him with one-and-a-half, sometimes two guys. He’s scary right now. The three-pointer is something he can devastate you with. You just have to do the best you can, run different guys at different players and hope you find a combination that works.

“We’re not going to do anything different than we normally do. When we played Wake Forest, we guards Chris Paul with multiple guys. We guarded Von Wafer with multiple guys. We guarded Julius Hodge with multiple guys.

What winning at Duke did for Tech last year – “For us, it built a lot of confidence, but we also had some pretty big wins before that last year. But because of what they (Duke) have done over the last 20 years, it caught more attention. It was a special feeling, but in terms of the development of that team, it was part of the process.”

On Mike Krzyzewski – “They’ve got a coach that we realize always gets the most out of his team. They play extremely hard and very unselfishly, and he does a very good job of recruiting very good players. Since I’ve been around this league, I would consider this his best (coaching) job to this point, no question. For them to win 15 in a row is a pretty strong statement. They’ve got very good players, but the margin for error is not as wide as it was.”

On Mario West – “Give him credit. He sat on the bench his first year, learned a lot. Last year, he got off to a great start. A lot of people don’t remember how he defended Gordon and Brown (of Connecticut). Then he lost his minutes when Will Bynum became eligible. So he’s exercised an awful lot of patience, and it’s starting to pay off for him.

“The plan was to have him walk on for two years and give him a scholarship his third year. So during his first year in practice, he was literally diving all over the floor. So in the middle of practice one day I said, ‘Stop, stop. You have the scholarship next year.’ But he was just relentless in practice, every day.

“He loves to go off the dribble, and his jump shot has improved. He’s unbelievably athletic, and very quick.”

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton on Tech – “Georgia Tech has a very unique style that creates a lot of indecision for opponents. You have a big hand in Schenscher, and he’s a distraction no matter if he’s blocking shots or not. We got the ball in the paint enough tonight that normally we would have scored, and he was enough of a distraction to not give us those points in the lane. When you don’t get those types of plays in a game this close, it’s difficult to pull them out. You can’t live and die by the jumpshot.”

“For a team to be holding their opponents to 35 percent field goal defense is a tribute to their ability to play defense as a team and more than anything else, I thought they really executed on defense. If they continue to put it together like they did tonight, I think they’ll get back on their winning ways.”

SERIES NOTES VS. DUKE

> Duke has won 16 of the last 17 games in the series, the lone Tech win coming last Mar. 3 in a 76-68 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which snapped a 15-game losing streak in the series for the Yellow Jackets. The Blue Devils lead the overall series 53-21, and are 41-17 against Tech since it joined the ACC.

> Last season: Duke overcame an early 11-point deficit in the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 31, and scored 14 of the game’s final 20 points to secure the win. In the return meeting in Durham, Tech went on a 14-2 run to take a 28-18 lead and never trailed again. Luke Schenscher scored 18 points in the first meeting, 14 in the second.

> Tech has won just five of 31 games played at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the first four coming in 1996, 1987, 1984 and 1959.

> Tech’s best stretch of the series occurred between 1982 and 1989, with 10 wins in 17 meetings. Tech has never won more than two in a row.

> Tech is 17-39 against Duke teams coached by Mike Krzyzewski, 10-14 in such games played in Atlanta. The Mar. 3 win is Tech’s only win in nine tries under Paul Hewitt.

> Since 1984, Tech has faced Duke only twice when the Blue Devils were unranked, and only 14 times when they were out of the top 10 in both polls. Tech is 8-15 against Duke when both teams are in the top 25.

PICKING UP THE SCORING LOAD

Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum have increased their scoring load for the Yellow Jackets in the absence of B.J. Elder. In Tech’s last nine games, including the Kansas game in which Elder sustained his hamstring injury, Jack has averaged 17.1 points a game and Bynum 15.2. Even Isma’il Muhammad has chipped in with five double figure games in the last six.

That trio has accounted for 55.2 percent of the Yellow Jackets field goal attempts, 57.2 percent of the points and 62.6 percent of the free throw attempts. They have combined to go to the free throw line 15.4 times a game.

Jack has shot 46.9 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from three-point range and 88.7 percent from the free throw line in 53 attempts over that stretch. He scored a season-high 26 in that Kansas game, making 10 of 12 shots from the floor, added 22 against Virginia (5-7 from three), 24 at North Carolina (10-of-10 from the foul line) and 23 against Wake Forest (7-11 FG, 8-10 FT).

While he has not shot the ball for a high percentage over the eight games, Bynum really stepped up against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State, scoring 28 against the Hokies and a career-high 30 against the Demon Deacons. He scored 19 against the Seminoles, including the game-winning three-point basket with 2.7 seconds left.

Muhammad has averaged 13.0 points over Tech’s last six games, including a season-high 17 against Wake Forest and 15 at Maryland, and has made 49.1 percent of his shots over that stretch.

As a team, Tech has averaged 75.9 points in Elder’s absence, shot 44.0 percent from the floor and 31.0 percent from three-point range. Those numbers include the Wake Forest game, in which Tech established season bests in scoring (102 points), field goal percentage (54.4 pct.), three-point percentage (42.9 pct.) and free throw shooting (81.6 pct., 38 attempts).

WHERE THERE’S A WILL …

He made his reputation as a clutch performer in last year’s NCAA Tournament, with big baskets that put Georgia Tech ahead for good in the final minute of tournament wins over Nevada, Kansas and Oklahoma State. Will Bynum did it again Wednesday night in Tech’s 64-61 victory over Florida State, taking a pass from Jarrett Jack off a double screen and knocking down a three-point field goal with 2.7 seconds left to lift the Yellow Jackets past the Seminoles, 64-61.

The 6-0 senior scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, helping Tech open a 12-point lead and then grabbing the victory after the lead was lost. Bynum made 6 of 10 shots (2-of-3 on threes) in the second half of the game.

It was his second-half exploits as well that enabled Tech to defeat No. 5 Wake Forest on Jan. 27. While Jarrett Jack scored 23 points and provided the final 102-101 winning margin with a pair of free throws with 4.4 seconds left in overtime, Bynum scored 18 of his 30 points after intermission, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN

Mario West has earned his minutes on the court with defense over his two seasons in a Georgia Tech uniform, but the 6-4 red-shirt sophomore is finding his way on the offensive end of late, particularly in the last two games by attacking the basket when the opportunity has presented itself. After going scoreless in seven of Tech’s first 11 games this season, West has scored in each of the last seven games, and established career bests three times.

Tech might not have beaten Florida State Wednesday night without the Douglasville, Ga., native, who scored 10 points in a variety of ways (4-7 FG), grabbed five rebounds and dealt two assists. West scored eight points (3-4 FG) at Maryland last Sunday night, and also scored seven in Tech’s Jan. 8 win over Virginia.

In the last seven games, West has averaged 4.7 points and shot 11-of-23 (47.8 pct.) from the floor, while also getting to the free throw line and going 11-for-17 there.

CHARITY STARTS AT HOME

Following a trend that has existed throughout Paul Hewitt’s tenure at Georgia Tech, Tech has markedly improved its free throw shooting as the seasons had progressed. The Jackets have made 70.7 percent of their charity tosses in ACC games (the last eight games of the season) after converting just 64.6 percent in their first 11 games of the season. Tech has shot 76.1 percent from the line (54-for-71) in the last three games.

Tech has been to the free throw line an average of 24.9 times per game against the ACC, compared to 22.4 times in the first 11 games of the season.

When those numbers are broken down home vs. road, however, there are marked differences. Tech has been to the line 25.6 times per game at home in ACC games, compared to 21.6 times for its opponents. On the road, Tech has shot 23.6 free throws per game, its opponents 34.0 per game.

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