Dec. 29, 2006
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech goes for its fourth consecutive win Saturday night when it meets Saint Francis of Pa., at 8 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. It is the fourth of five straight home games the Yellow Jackets play in preparation for the resumption of conference play. The Yellow Jackets then host Winston-Salem State at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3 before visiting Clemson on Jan. 6.
Saturday’s game is not being televised, but can be heard on radio over the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network. In Atlanta, the broadcasts are available on WQXI-AM (790), WREK-FM (91.1) and WTSH-FM (107.1).
The Tech broadcast can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 192 (Saint Francis). Live video streaming can be seen on the Internet at http://gatech.playonsports.tv.
The Jackets bring an 9-3 overall record into Thursday’s game, having won four of six games since returning from a runner-up finish in the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational. Tech has won three in a row over Centenary (92-52 on Dec. 18), Georgia (78-69 on Dec. 22) and Troy (85-55 on Thursday). If Tech can win the final two games of this homestand, it will match its win total for all of 2005-06.
Tech is undefeated at home this season (7-0), and are 73-23 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum under head coach Paul Hewitt, including a 44-5 mark in non-conference games. Tech has won 31 of its last 32 non-ACC games at home.
Saint Francis has dropped its last two games against Akron (79-44) and Duquesne (72-71) to fall to 4-7 overall. The Red Flash are 1-1 in Northeast Conference play.
This is only the second meeting between Georgia Tech and Saint Francis in men’s basketball. The only previous meeting occurred 30 years ago, a 74-72 Yellow Jackets’ victory on Dec. 13, 1976 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Tech is 5-1 all-time against members of the Northeast Conference.
Red-shirt freshman Mouhammad Faye will become the eighth Georgia Tech player, and fourth freshman, to start a game when he takes the floor for the opening tip against Saint Francis. Faye, a 6-10 forward, replaces Lewis Clinch in the starting five and joins point guard Javaris Crittenton, wingman Thaddeus Young, strong forward Jeremis Smith and center Ra’Sean Dickey.
Faye’s biggest contributions come on defense, where his 7-foot-3 wingspan has caused havoc in Tech’s press and in halfcourt defensive situations, and also can handle, pass and shoot the ball. The Dakar, Senegal, native averages 4.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, and also has 14 assists, four blocked shots and eight steals.
“We see Mouhammad Faye start to round into shape,” head coach Paul Hewitt said following Thursday night’s game. “His wrist I think is getting healthier and he’s able to hold onto the ball a little stronger. I still want to see his turnover numbers come down, obviously. He only had one [turnover] today, at the end of the second half.”
Young, a 6-8 small forward, has been Tech’s best player of late, averaging 20 points in games against Vanderbilt, Centenary, Georgia and Troy, and has assumed the team lead in scoring at 15.2 points per game. The Memphis, Tenn., native established a career high with 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Georgia, his third double-double of the season. Young, who went 9-for-11 from the foul line to help seal the win over the Bulldogs, is shooting 50.8 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three-point range this season.
The insertion of Faye means Smith, a 6-8 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, will become the only Tech player to start every game. Smith has improved offensively and is just as tough on the boards and on defense as he was a year ago, averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (65.3 percent) and has seven double-digit scoring efforts.
Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, has averaged 13.2 points (45.3 pct. FG) as well as 5.6 assists, second-best in the ACC. Crittenton has made 7-of-14 three-point tries during Tech’s winning streak, and has averaged 6.0 assists, including a 10-assist, no-turnover performance against Troy.
Given a chance to start Tech’s last three games, Dickey came through with 15 points and nine rebounds in the win over Georgia and has averaged 9.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in that stretch. The 6-10 junior from Clio, S.C., averages 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds this season, hitting 57.6 percent of his shots from the floor while adding a team-high 16 blocked shots.
Hewitt has built plenty of depth between the returning players and the four freshmen who are playing, playing 11 players more than 10 minutes a game during the current winning streak.
Clinch, a 6-3 sophomore from Cordele, Ga., ranks 15th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 15.0 points a game, ranks fifth in the ACC in field goal percentage (54.2) and second in three-point percentage (48.3). Mario West, a 6-5 senior guard (4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 52.4 pct. FG), has been the Jackets’ catalyst on defense and logged important backup minutes at point guard.
Also averaging double-digit minutes are Peacock, a 6-8 all-state performer from Miami who started the first nine games (7.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 58.9 pct. FG), 6-5 junior guard Anthony Morrow (6.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg), and 6-5 sophomore D’Andre Bell (0.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg), has moved back into Tech’s perimeter rotation in the last three games and provided a big lift on defense.
Georgia Tech’s defensive intensity and execution has picked up since the team’s back-to-back losses to Miami and Vanderbilt in early December. The Yellow Jackets have allowed an average of 58.7 points in the last three games, holding Georgia nearly 20 points below its average in a 78-69 win and Troy more than 20 points under its norm in an 85-55 win.
After allowing four straight opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor (through Vanderbilt on Dec. 9), Tech has allowed the last three foes just 34.9 percent from the floor, and only 27.3 percent from three-point range.
“We don’t have classes to worry about and we can get in the gym and really concentrate on some things,” said Hewitt. “This is the time and the last chance to mold your team into a consistent basketball team because once you get past the holiday break, it’s game after game after game and you have classes starting back up. I’m very happy with how these guys have responded to the break. They’ve really picked up the things that we’ve put in and they have executed them well.”
Tech has forced 61 turnovers in the last three games (20.3 average), and taken 34 steals (11.3 average).
The starting guards of Tech’s last three opponents have shot 10-for-51 (19.6 percent) from the floor overal and 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) from three-point range. They have collected 12 assists to 31 turnovers combined.
While West has been Tech’s defensive catalyst all along, Tech’s improvement on defense can, in part, be traced to the emergence of Bell and Faye in the Yellow Jackets’ playing rotation. Bell, who started 11 games last year, has averaged 13 minutes in Tech’s last three games and Faye nearly 15, and they have combined for five steals and three blocked shots and numerous deflections.
The Yellow Jackets remain No. 2 in the ACC in scoring offense (84.0 ppg), and they rank third in field goal percentage (50.1 pct.) and fourth in three-point field goal percentage (38.9 pct.). Nationally, Tech is 15th, 17th and 66th, respectively, in those categories. Tech also ranks fourth in the ACC in rebound margin (plus-8.5), fourth in assists per game (16.75) and second in offensive rebounds (15.17).