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Tech Basketball Faces Home Stretch

Feb. 21, 2006

ATLANTA –

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Coming off another close loss on the road, Georgia Tech returns to Atlanta for its final two home games of the season this week, hosting No. 1 Duke Wednesday night at 7 p.m. and Wake Forest on Saturday for Senior Day. The game against Duke is the only regular-season meeting scheduled between the two teams this year.

Wednesday’s game will be nationally televised on ESPN. The Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network provides the radio coverage, which airs in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790), WTSH-FM (107.1) and WREK-FM (91.1). The Tech broadcast can be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 191.

Tech (10-14 overall, 3-10 ACC this season), is in 11th place in the ACC standings following an 87-84 overtime loss at Maryland Saturday. The Yellow Jackets have dropped their last five road games by a total of 14 points, and have lost their seven ACC road games by an average of 5.4 points.

At home, Tech is 9-4 overall this year, 3-3 in ACC games, and secured its 500th all-time victory at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 12 against NC State.

Duke (25-1 overall, 13-0 ACC), which has lost only to Georgetown this year, clinched a tie for the ACC regular-season title Sunday night with its 92-71 win over Miami.

The Blue Devils won all three meetings with Tech last year, but only by four points in Atlanta (60-56) and five in the ACC Tournament championship game (69-64). Duke has won 19 of the last 20 meetings between the two teams, the lone win for Tech coming in Durham during the 2003-04 season.

Georgia Tech is facing a team ranked No. 1 in the national polls for the 41st time in its history, and has an 8-32 record in those games. The Yellow Jackets last met a No. 1-ranked team on Jan. 31, 2004 (82-74 home loss to Duke). Tech’s last win against a team ranked No. 1 was a 77-61 victory over Connecticut in the 2003 Preseason NIT semifinals. Tech has played Duke 11 times previously when the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1, winning only once (80-79 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Jan. 10, 1993). Wednesday night’s meeting will be the 12th time Duke has been No. 1 when facing Tech, matching Kentucky and North Carolina (12 each).

The brightest spot for Georgia Tech over the last several games has been the emergence of sophomore center Ra’Sean Dickey, who has averaged 17.3 points over his last seven games, shooting 66.7 percent and posting three double-doubles.

The 6-9 native of Clio, S.C., is averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds for the season, ranking second in the ACC in field goal percentage (59.9 pct.). In conference games, he has made 60.7 percent, which leads the ACC.

Dickey’s improvement has helped Anthony Morrow, the ACC’s second-leading three-point shooter (42.3 pct.) and the only Tech player to start every game this season, get more good looks from the outside. A 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., Morrow ranks 10th in the ACC in scoring at 16.5 points. One of four Tech players averaging in double figures, Morrow has averaged 15.7 points and shoots 41.1 percent from three-point range in ACC games.

Mario West, a 6-4 junior from Douglasville, Ga., Tech’s best on-the-ball defender, has started Tech’s last four games. West, who shares point guard time with sophomore Zam Fredrick, scored 11 points with six assists last time out at Maryland. He averages 5.3 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and owns Tech’s best assist-turnover ratio.

Also in the starting five are Theodis Tarver, a 6-9 senior from Monroe, La., who has started 12 games this season, and Lewis Clinch, a 6-3 freshman from Cordele, Ga., who made his first college start at FSU. Tarver gives the Jackets a strong defensive presence in the post while averaging 3.5 points (51.7 FG pct.) and 3.1 rebounds. Clinch, the ACC’s fifth-leading freshman scorer (7.8 ppg) gives Tech an additional outside shooting threat (45.5 pct. in ACC games).

Off the bench on the perimeter, Fredrick, a 6-0 sophomore from St. Matthews, S.C., has given Tech a big lift offensively in the last four games, averaging 18.3 points while shooting 60.9 percent from the floor (10-of-18 on threes). Fredrick averages 10.7 points a game for the season and has shot 39.1 percent from three-point range in ACC games. D’Andre Bell, a 6-5 wingman from Los Angeles, Calif., averages 4.0 points and 2.0 rebounds for the season.

In the post, Tech has Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 sophomore from Fort Worth, Texas, who started Tech’s first 20 games this season and has posted eight double-doubles. Fully recovered from a dislocated kneecap that sidelined him for 17 games last year, Smith averages 11.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, third-best in the ACC.

Lineup Shuffle Injects Energy

Following a 70-53 homecourt loss to Miami on Feb. 4, head coach Paul Hewitt inserted three different players in the starting lineup for the Florida State game, creating the Yellow Jackets’ sixth different starting lineup this season. Sophomore guard Anthony Morrow and sophomore center Ra’Sean Dickey remained in the lineup, and were joined by junior guard Mario West, senior forward Theodis Tarver and freshman guard Lewis Clinch.

The revamped lineup has produced better aggressiveness and offensive punch, and the Jackets produced three consecutive 50-percent shooting efforts for the first time since early last season (Michigan, Georgia, Air Force). It was the first time Tech has accomplished that against three straight ACC foes since the last three regular-season games of the 1995-96 season (Clemson, NC State, Maryland).

Over the last four games, Tech has made 50.6 percent of its field goal tries (113-of-223) and 47.8 percent of its three-point attempts (33-of-69). Against FSU, Tech made 11-of-18 three-point shots, a 61.1-percent rate that was the best the Jackets have achieved in a game under Paul Hewitt.

Second Half Blues

Five times in the last 11 games, Georgia Tech has held a halftime lead only to see it evaporate after intermission, most recently watching a 55-42 advantage over North Carolina in Chapel Hill turn into an 82-75 loss.

The Yellow Jackets had shot 61.3 percent from the floor, and made 9-of-10 three-point shots, in building a 20-point first half lead. But Tech scored just 20 points after intermission, a scene that had played out a couple of times before, when the Jackets scored just 20 second-half points in home-court losses to Clemson and Miami.

Tech also held a 14-point lead at Florida State midway through the second half on Feb. 9 and lost by one.

The lone exception to the pattern occurred on Feb. 12 against No. 16 NC State, when the Jackets led 35-29 at intermission and held on to win 71-68.

Some of those losses have occurred in heartbreaking fashion. In Saturday’s game at Maryland, the Yellow Jackets had the last possession of regulation with the game tied, and failed to get off a clean shot before time expired. A potential game-tying shot at the end of overtime was off the mark.

At Virginia Tech, when the Yellow Jackets also had the ball for the final possession with the game tied, Jeremis Smith put back a missed jump shot for the go-ahead points, but was whistled for an over-the-back foul. His basket was waved off, and the Hokies won the game at the free throw line with a half-second showing.

During the the past 11 games, Tech’s offense has been handicapped by turnovers (18.6 per game overall), and the Yellow Jackets endured long second-half scoring droughts in some of those losses (one field goal over an 11:35 stretch against Maryland, one over a 12:53 stretch against Clemson, one FG over a 9:27 stretch against Miami, one FG over a six-minute stretch at North Carolina).

Comments from head coach Paul Hewitt

[On Tech] – “We have been competitive, but we certainly don’t feel like we’ve done what we’re capable of. But, it is what it is, and we need to go out and play well on Wednesday.

[On preparing for J.J. Redick] – “The thing you are very impressed by as you watch and prepare for him is his conditioning level. He’s a guy who just keeps moving and keeps moving. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy move as consistently well without the ball as Redick. That’s the thing that makes him hard to prepare for.”

[On Tech’s lineup changes after Miami] – “We’ve built some depth. When you bring a guy like Jeremis Smith off the bench, a strong rebounder and strong with the ball, and Zam Fredrick, who has been helped by playing fewer minutes, it helps. When he gets past the 26- or 27-minute mark, Zam’s decision-making and execution aren’t quite what they need to be. In the four games that we’ve played since the lineup was changed, he’s averaging more than 15 (actually 18.2) points a game, and he played only one game more than 30 minutes, and that was North Carolina when Mario West got into foul trouble.

“We’ve gotten some improved depth out of it, and our quality of play has improved.”

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