ATLANTA – Georgia Tech tackles an important stretch with two home games this week, beginning with No. 13 Maryland Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and continuing Sunday against No. 6 Virginia at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center.
Tech, 12-8 overall and 4-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, ended a modest two-game winning streak Saturday by dropping an 82-69 decision at No. 4 North Carolina, which has risen to No. 1 in this week’s national rankings. The Yellow Jackets finished 4-4 record through the first round of conference play and are currently tied for fifth place.
The Jackets are in the middle of another six-game run that includes five teams ranked among the nation’s top 20 teams according to this week’s Associated Press national poll, beginning with UNC and now No. 13 Maryland (15-6, 6-3), which got back on the winning track Sunday with a 69-54 victory over Clemson. The Jackets also face No. 6 Virginia, No. 19 Wake Forest and No. 3 Duke between now and Feb. 21.
The Jackets are coming off a pair of poor shooting performances in their last two outings against Florida State and North Carolina, in which Tech shot a combined 21.4 percent from three-point range (9-of-42). But Tech has gotten strong inside play from center Alvin Jones, who is averaging 19.8 points and 10 rebounds in his last six games.
The 6-11 senior has moved into the team scoring lead, averaging 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds this season and shooting 54.5 percent from the floor. Senior Shaun Fein, a 6-3 guard who scored 23 points at Clemson, averages 15.0 per game and is shooting 44.4 percent from three-point range. Also averaging in double figures are 5-11 junior guard Tony Akins, 12.7 points and 4.6 assists; and 6-3 freshman forward Marvin Lewis (10.4 points per game). The fifth starter is 6-7 senior forward Jon Babul, 5.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, who has averaged almost 10 points over his last four games.
The Yellow Jackets are shooting 39.4 percent for the season on threes, only the second time all season Tech has dipped under 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Quoting Head Coach Paul Hewitt
“I was pleased with the way we fought back in the second half Saturday, but as I said after the game, this is February now, and moral victories don’t mean a whole lot any more. We’re in a stretch drive here where we’re trying to put together some wins and make our case for the selection committee. The kids have done a great job to this point in the season of putting ourselves in position. Now we’re in position, it’s time to make a run.
“[Maryland] beat us in transition the last time very easily, so we can’t give up as many transition baskets as we did up there at Cole Field House. Obviously, we can’t fall behind 19 points as we did in the first half. I thought we did a great job in the second half battling.
“If this turns out to be a season where we reach our goals, I’ll look back at that second half at Maryland because we fought back and scrapped after we were down for the first time all year, and got back into a ball game. We’ve been doing that consistently ever since.
“The transition defense will be very important, because they get their running game going, which can be lethal. We found out first-hand in the first half up there. We need to be careful in terms of how fast we go. We need to do the things we’re comfortable with.”
Georgia Tech vs. Maryland
Georgia Tech leads the series with Maryland 29-25, including a 29-21 mark since the Yellow Jackets joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, the best for Tech against any of its league foes.
The Terrapins have had the upper hand of late, however, winning nine of the last 10 meetings, including a 93-80 decision earlier this season (Jan. 6) in College Park. Tech defeated the Terps the last time the teams met at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, 69-68, on Jan. 15 last season.
Prior to the Terps’ current run of success against Tech, the Yellow Jackets had won 28 of 35 meetings from the 1981-82 season through the 1995-96 campaign.
At Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Tech holds a 14-6 record against Maryland, and has a 16-6 mark against the Terps in all games played in Atlanta. That includes a pair of games played at the Omni in the 1983 ACC Tournament, the Jackets first-ever tournament win, and a 1996 regular-season meeting while the Thrillerdome was undergoing its most recent renovation.
Earlier This Season
Maryland scored 18 straight points over a four-and-a-half-minute stretch in the first half for a 37-15 lead and led by 19 points at halftime. Georgia Tech did not let the 17th-ranked Terrapins coast, however, closing the gap to six (55-49) at the 15:10 mark before Maryland pulled away for a 93-80 victory at College Park.
Maryland shot 52.3 percent in the first half, but only 30 percent after intermission as the Jackets came back. Tech shot 53.6 percent from the floor after halftime.
Tony Akins led Tech with 20 points, while Alvin Jones had 15 points and 14 rebounds, and Darryl LaBarrie had 15 off the bench.
Last Time Out
Joseph Forte scored 23 points to lead five North Carolina players in double figures as the Tar Heels defeated Georgia Tech, 82-69, Saturday in Chapel Hill. Kris Lang scored 15 points and Jason Capel scored 11, while Julius Peppers added 14 and Adam Boone 10 off the bench.
Tech jumped out front 11-3 early, but the Tar Heels scored 23 straight points and built a 30-13 lead from which the Jackets could not recover. Much like its earlier losses to Maryland and Duke, however, Tech never let the Tar Heels coast in the second half, closing the gap to eight points (70-62) at the 4:34 mark.
Tony Akins scored 18 points to lead the Yellow Jackets, and Alvin Jones posted his 28th career double-double with 16 points and a season-high 18 rebounds. Shaun Fein was the only other Jacket in double figures with 10.
Back in the Thrillerdome
Georgia Tech is playing its 45th season at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center in 2000-01, and the Yellow Jackets are 7-3 on their home court this season. The Jackets have a record of 441-150 (.746) in the facility, which opened Nov. 30, 1956 with a 71-61 Tech loss to Duke.
Since the beginning of the 1981-82 season, Tech is 204-50 (.803) in its on-campus home, including an 11-3 mark last season. The Jackets are 117-5 against non-conference opponents at the Thrillerdome since 1981-82.
Tech Misfiring from Long Range
Having depended on its capable three-point shooters this season, Georgia Tech is experiencing its first shooting slump of the season, hitting just 9-of-42 attempts from behind the three-point line in its last two games.
Tech has dipped below 40 percent (39.4) for only the second time this season. This comes just three games after Tech achieved a two-year high in field goal percentage with 57.6 percent overall on a school-record 17 three-point field goals in 31 attempts (54.5 percent) at Clemson.
The Yellow Jackets have been fairly consistent all season, hitting 44.3 percent from the floor overall and 39.4 percent from three-point range. Tech ranks 2nd in the ACC behind Duke in three-point shooting percentage, and 16th nationally.
The Jackets have failed to make 40 percent from the floor in only four games this season, but still shot well from the three-point area in two of those. Against North Carolina (32.8 percent overall), Tech was 10-for-21 (47.6 percent) from three-point range. Against Duke (34.4 percent overall), the Jackets were 7-of-17 (41.2 percent).
The Jackets rank 2nd in the ACC and 12th nationally in three-point field goals per game (9.15). Tech has exceeded 40 percent from beyond the arc 9 times in 19 games, including 41.4 vs. Kentucky, 48.0 vs. Stanford, and the aforementioned two games.
Tech has won all four games this season in which it has topped the 50-percent mark, is 6-0 when scoring 90 points or more and 8-1 when scoring 80 or more.
Two Tech players rank officially among the ACC’s top 10 in three-point field goal percentage, led by Shaun Fein (4th, 44.4), followed by Tony Akins (6th, 38.7). Fein has made 47.2 percent in ACC games, the best in the conference. Freshmen Marvin Lewis (41.3 percent from three) and Halston Lane (42.6) have shot well but do not have enough attempts to make the league rankings.
Following its two wins over No. 10 Virginia and No. 6 Wake Forest, Georgia Tech zoomed as high as No. 20 in the Sagarin NCAA Basketball Rankings. Tech is currently No. 35, and its strength of schedule is rated 10th in the Sagarin rankings.
Tech has 10 games out of 16 conference contests against Top 20 teams, including North Carolina (currently 4th in Sagarin), Maryland (15th), Virginia (6th), Wake Forest (9th) and Duke (1st).
Tech has played 11 games against teams rated in the Top 30 of the Sagarin index – more than any other Division I team – including Stanford (2), Iowa (16), Kentucky (12), Georgia (29) and UCLA (19) – and has won four of them.
The RPI Report, which is supposed to mirror the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index but is produced independently without NCAA input, ranks Tech 45th and its strength of schedule 33rd.
Alvin Jones is the ACC’s career leader among active players in double-doubles with 28, having done it twice in the last three games and four times against ACC opposition this year, including a 16-point, 18-rebound effort Saturday at North Carolina. His 18 boards were a season-high.
Jones also notched double-doubles against Florida State (26 points, 14 rebounds) and Wake Forest (17 points and 10 rebounds). He came within two blocks of a triple-double against Maryland, swatting eight blocks in a career-high for an ACC game to go with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Jackets Toe the Line
Georgia Tech has been to the free throw line an average of 29 times in the last six games, seven more than its season average. That includes 25-of-37 vs. Wake Forest, 28-of-34 vs. Duke, 26-of-39 vs. Clemson and 25-of-36 vs. Florida State.
Tech is shooting better as well since conference play began, making 71.1 percent of its free throws as a team in league games, compared to just 68.3 percent before the New Year began. For the season, Tech has improved to 69.7 percent.
The last Tech team to shoot 70 percent for a season was the 1995-96 edition that finished the ACC regular season in first place and reached the NCAA round of 16. One of the hallmarks of Paul Hewitt’s teams at Siena was excellent free throw shooting. The Saints shot 77.8 percent from the charity stripe in his three seasons, and led the nation twice.
Alvin Jones (63.6 percent overall, 66.7 percent in ACC games), Jon Babul (81.2, 75.0), Tony Akins (73.7, 73.3) and Shaun Fein (68.3, 72.2) are all at career-high levels from the free throw line. Freshman Marvin Lewis has outshot all of them at 90.5 percent overall and 95 percent in conference games. Babul ranks fourth in the ACC.
Alvin Jones is enjoying his finest season as a Yellow Jacket, and currently is enjoying the finest stretch of his career offensively. The 6-11 senior has averaged 19.8 points in his last six games, including 26 points each against Clemson and Florida State, which earned him a share of this week’s ACC Player of the Week honor, and a National Player of the Week recognition from ESPN analyst Dick Vitale.
In that stretch, Jones has made 37 of his 72 field goal attempts (51.4 percent) and averaged 10.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Remarkably, he has made 71.4 percent of his free throws in that span (45 of 63), including 24 of 34 combined against Clemson and FSU. He has led the Jackets in scoring four of their last fivde games.
Jones, who also had a career-high 6 assists vs. Clemson, has led the Jackets in scoring seven times this season, and currently leads the squad in scoring both in all games (15.6) and in ACC games (17.1).
In ACC games, Jones has shot 50 percent from the floor, and he ranks fourth in the ACC in field goal percentage for all games (54.5). Jones ranks 9th in the ACC in scoring (15.6), 2nd in rebounding (9.6) and 2nd in blocked shots (3.55).
Jones Causes High Attrition Rate
Alvin Jones also has excelled on the defensive end, holding Brendan Haywood of North Carolina, Lonny Baxter of Maryland, Travis Watson of Virginia and Josh Shoemaker of Wake Forest to a combined 26 points and 9-of-29 shooting from the floor in Tech’s first four ACC games. Jones has averaged 3.2 blocks per conference game.
Seven post men who have fouled out guarding Jones this season. The list includes Jared Reiner of Iowa, Marvin Stone of Kentucky, Michael Canady of Morgan State, Watson, Ray Henderson of Clemson, and Mike Mathews and David Anderson of Florida State. Jones’ scoring average in those games is 17.8.
Another group including Anthony Evans of Georgia, Doug Silva of Idaho State, Onnie Mayshak of Harvard, Haywood, Baxter, Shoemaker and Carlos Boozer of Duke have finished the game with four fouls.
Bench a Necessary Component for Tech
Playing with a 10-man rotation this year, Georgia Tech has come to rely more on its bench for scoring. Tech is getting 20.1 points per game from its reserves this season, about 25 percent of its total scoring output.
The Yellow Jackets got 35 from the bench at Clemson, led by Halston Lane’s 17 points, the team’s second-best effort of the season behind a 39-point night in Tech’s 86-84 win over Kentucky in December.
When the Jackets win, the bench average is 23.4. In losses, the bench has averaged 15.0. Tech is 7-3 this season when its bench outscores the opposition’s reserves.
Fein and Dandy
Senior guard Shaun Fein has been a model of consistency over the entire season, and he has added a driving, slashing dimension to his game, complementing his excellent marksmanship from outside.
Fein has reached double figures in 16 of 20 games and ranks 10th in the ACC in scoring at 15.0 points per game. He also ranks 10th in the league in overall field goal percentage (48.6), 4th in three-point percentage (44.4) and 4th in three-pointers per game (2.75).
He has shot 47.2 percent from three-point land in ACC games, which is the best mark in the conference currently. That includes a 7-of-9 performance at Clemson, which tied a career high for threes in an ACC game.
One of Tech’s best ballhandlers, Fein has just 23 turnovers in 20 games and has played without committing a turnover five times this season. His one turnover for every 22.8 minutes played is bettered only by Jon Babul’s one every 30.8 minutes.
Fein made the all-tournament team in the Stanford Invitational by averaging 18.5 points, making 14 of 18 field goal attempts and 7 of 9 from three-point range. He scored 24 in the championship game against Stanford, making 6 of 8 from three-point range and 9 of 13 overall.
A Tale of Two Halves
In each of its five conference losses this season, Georgia Tech has played solidly in one half and poorly in the other. Conversely, Georgia Tech put two good halves together in all four of its wins.
The case was true in each of Tech’s losses to North Carolina. Tech led the Tar Heels 44-32 at halftime in its ACC opener, hitting 6-of-10 three-point attempts and forcing 11 turnovers with its press. But UNC scored the first 10 points of the second half and overtook the Jackets to win 84-70. At Chapel Hill, Tech trailed 44-29 at halftime after shooting 36 percent and allowing the Tar Heels 51.7. But the Jackets limited UNC to 41.7 percent after halftime and outscored the Heels, 40-38.
Against NC State, Tech held the Wolfpack to 31-percent shooting in the first half and held a 19-12 lead at one point, but State scored 48 points and shot 54.2 percent from the floor after intermission and led by as many as 19 points. Similarly, Duke shot 53.6 percent in the first half and led 52-33 at intermission Saturday, but the Jackets recovered to even things up in the second half, shooting 45.5 percent to the Blue Devils’ 44.4 percent, and Duke outscored Tech just 46-44.
Against Maryland, Tech fell behind by 22 in the first half and trailed 53-34 at intermission, but started the second half on a 15-2 run and crept to within 55-49 at one point before losing 93-80. The Jackets shot 54 percent after the half and held Maryland to 30 percent in the same period.
The Difference is Defense
While shooting the ball well is important to Georgia Tech being able to win, the key to Georgia Tech’s ability to win this year has been defense. So far this year, Tech is 9-0 when holding opponents under 70 points, and 7-0 when holding them under 40 percent on field goals.
Tech is 5-8 when its opponent has shot 40 percent or higher.
That difference was never more apparent than Tech’s January losses to North Carolina, Maryland and NC State. The Jackets held the Tar Heels to 37.9 percent in the first half while taking a 44-32 lead, but yielded 51.6 percent and 52 points after intermission. After trailing 53-34 at halftime against Maryland, the Jackets held the Terps to 30 percent shooting in the second half and outscored them, 46-40. At NC State, Tech held the Wolfpack to 31 percent in the first half and trailed just 24-21, but allowed 54.2 percent after intermission and was outscored 48-39.
Defense – Part Deaux
Georgia Tech has held 25 of its last 26 opponents under 50 percent, including a 23-game streak that ended at Clemson (51.7 percent).
Dating back to last season’s regular season finale against Clemson, Georgia Tech has held nine of 21 opponents under 40 percent shooting from the floor, most recently Virginia at 35.1 percent.
Tech has twice held opponents under 30 percent this season: UCLA managed just 28.6 percent in Tech’s 72-67 win, and Wofford with 25.5 percent in the season opener, and came close to that with Idaho State (30.6) and Harvard (30.1).
Tech has defended the perimeter well. Nine of Tech’s opponents have managed no better than 30 percent from three-point range, including Stanford (6-of-20), North Carolina (4-of-14), Maryland (3-of-13), Virginia (6-of-25) and Wake Forest (4-of-19).
For the season, Tech has allowed opponents just 40.2 percent from the floor, which ranks 3rd in the ACC and 14th nationally, and 32.5 percent from three-point range, also 3rd in the ACC.
Akins Contributes, Scoring or Not
Tony Akins may be the most improved player on the floor for Georgia Tech this season, scoring when needed and distributing the ball effectively when not. The 5-11 junior point guard has been very consistent so far in all phases of his game, averaging 12.7 points and 4.6 assists per game (7th in the ACC) with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and direct Tech’s offense.
Against Clemson, foul trouble limited Akins to just 14 minutes and he failed to score for the first time in his career. But he had six assists and just one turnover. In Tech’s four ACC wins this season, Akins has scored a total of 31 points and shot just 3-of-21 from three-point range, but he has 19 assists and just eight turnovers for a ratio of 2.38-1.
He has been in double digits in 14 of 20 games this season, with a high of 28 against UCLA.
For the season, Akins ranks 6th in the ACC in three-point percentage (38.7) and 6th in three-point field goals per game (2.30). He also shoots 73.7 percent from the foul line.
Tower of Babul
Jon Babul has averaged 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds over his last four games, getting the majority of his points from the free throw line (18 of 25) and dishing out five assists with just two turnovers in 104 minutes.
The 6-7 senior turned in the best game of his career against an ACC team at Clemson, scoring 14 points in Georgia Tech’s 111-108 victory. Babul went 5-of-7 from the floor, including a three-pointer, and 3-for-3 from the free throw line. He also matched a season high with six rebounds and dished three assists before fouling out.
Babul has averaged 7.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in ACC games this year, compared with season averages of 5.9 and 3.5 per game. He has committed just 13 turnovers, a team low which translates into one every 30.8 minutes.
Shooting for 1,000 on the Boards
Alvin Jones passed the 900 mark in career rebounds against Wake Forest, and ranks fifth in Tech history currently with 954 boards. He snared 18 boards Saturday, a season high for Jones and one off his career best.
The 6-11 senior, the ACC’s active leader in career rebounds, needs 2 rebounds to pass Rich Yunkus (955, 1969-71) for fourth place.
Jones also has a chance this season to become only the second player in Tech history to accumulate 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. He has already passed the 1,000-point mark (see below), and would need to average about nine boards per game this season to reach 1,000. He is averaging 9.6.
Only Malcolm Mackey, who holds the Tech record for rebounds with 1,205 and ranks 10th in Tech history with 1,734 points, has done that.
Free Throw Mark on the Line
At Alvin Jones’ current rate of getting to the free throw line, he should become Georgia Tech’s all-time leader in free throw attempts in the next week.
The 6-11 senior, who has attempted 660 charity tosses in his career and made 384 (8th on the all-time list), needs just 15 to equal the mark of 675 set by Matt Harpring from 1995-98. Harpring also holds the Tech record for free throws made (508).