Dec. 7, 2006
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech makes its first trip to Memorial Gymnasium to face Vanderbilt since the 1963-64 season when it visits the Commodores for a nationally televised game at 5 p.m. Eastern time Saturday night.
ESPN2 will carry the game live on television, while radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network and can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790), WREK-FM (91.1) and WTSH-FM (107.1). The radio broadcast also can be heard on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 191.
This is the second of a four-game series the teams will play; Tech returns to Nashville next year, and Vandy comes to Atlanta the year after. The Jackets bring a 6-2 overall record and the nation’s No. 25 ranking in the Associated Press poll into Saturday’s game. Last time out, Tech dropped a 90-82 decision to Miami in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener last Sunday.
Vanderbilt is 3-3 pending a Thursday night home game with Lipscomb.
Tech is 2-2 away from home this season, having defeated Purdue (79-61) and No. 11 Memphis (92-85) before dropping an 88-73 decision to No. 5 UCLA in the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational. The Yellow Jackets are 20-48 on the road overall under head coach Paul Hewitt.
Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt have played just twice since the Yellow Jackets left the Southeastern Conference. The first was an 86-77 Tech overtime win at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 18, 1993. The Yellow Jackets knocked off the Commodores, 76-67, last January at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. See more details on the Tech-Vanderbilt series on page 2.
Tech last played at Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 29, 1964, a 103-89 Vanderbilt victory, and has lost five straight in the venerable facility. The Yellow Jackets are 8-23 against Vanderbilt in Nashville, 1-11 in Memorial Gymnasium. Tech’s only win there occurred on Feb. 28, 1959, by a 71-67 score.
Tech’s starting lineup for all but one game this season has included freshman Javaris Crittenton at point guard, sophomore Lewis Clinch and freshman Thaddeus Young on the wings, junior Jeremis Smith at strong forward and freshman Zach Peacock at center. Young sat out the Penn State game due to tendinitis in his left knee but returned to play against Miami.
Steadiest among the group has been sophomore Lewis Clinch, who leads the Yellow Jackets and ranks fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 18.0 points a game. Having reached double digits in each game, the 6-3 guard from Cordele, Ga., also ranks fifth in the ACC in field goal percentage (57.5) and second in three-point percentage (48.9). He has scored at least 20 points in three straight games.
The other returning player in Tech’s starting lineup is Jeremis Smith, a 6-8 strong forward from Fort Worth, Texas. Smith, a junior, has improved offensively and is just as tough on the boards and on defense as he was a year ago, averaging 10.6 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (66.0 percent) and scored a season-high 21 points with nine rebounds against Memphis.
Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, was a McDonald’s All-American his senior year at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and has averaged 14.8 points (47.3 pct. FG) and 5.5 assists, third-best in the ACC. Young, a 6-8 McDonald’s All-American from Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tenn., averages 12.4 points while hitting 47.9 percent of his field goal tries and pulling down 4.4 rebounds per game.
Peacock, a 6-8 all-state performer from Norland High School in Miami, was a surprise inclusion in the starting five at the outset of the season. Demonstrating the effort and toughness on defense Hewitt wants in the post, Peacock has averaged 8.0 points and 3.1 rebounds while making 58.1 percent of his field goals. He scored 13 against Purdue and 12 vs. UCLA out in Maui.
Hewitt has built plenty of depth between the returning players and the four freshmen who are playing, employing a solid nine-man rotation.
Off the bench, four players are averaging double-digit minutes, including Ra’Sean Dickey (8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 60.5 FG pct.), a 6-10 junior who started 20 games last year; 6-5 senior guard Mario West (4.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 65.2 pct. FG); 6-10 red-shirt freshman forward Mouhammad Faye (4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and 6-5 junior guard Anthony Morrow (5.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg), who started all 30 games last year but is working his way back from a back injury.
The Yellow Jackets remain No. 2 in the ACC in scoring offense (86.1 ppg), lead the ACC in field goal percentage (51.4 pct.) and rank second in three-point field foal percentage (39.0 pct.). Tech also ranks sixth in rebound margin (plus-5.9), fifth in assists per game (16.5) and fifth in offensive rebounds (14.5).
Yet, Hewitt wants to see more patience from his team offensively.
“We went over this the other day,” Hewitt said of his post-Miami review with the team. “When we made two passes or less (against Miami), we shoot 32 percent. When we make three passes or more, we shot 54 percent.”
Five players in Tech’s regular nine-man rotation have hit better than 50 percent of their shots, and three are over 60 percent (Mario West 65.2, Jeremis Smith 66.0, Ra’Sean Dickey 60.5). Freshmen Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton are both better than 47 percent. Clinch, Young and Crittenton have combined to make 39-of-82 three-point attempts (47.6 percent). Anthony Morrow has heated up recently, making 6-of-14 in Tech’s last three games.
Defensively, Tech has struggled in its last three games, allowing its opponents to shoot no worse than 51.7 percent in any one half. And the Jackets have been outrebounded for three straight games after beating its first five opponents on the boards by an average of more than 12 per game.
The Yellow Jackets will be tested Saturday by a team that relies heavily on good three-point shooting.
“We’ve just got to do a better job of getting out and contesting without fouling,” said Hewitt, “especially a team like Vanderbilt with guys who can shoot the ball. It’s not just one or two guys you have to worry about.
“They can all shoot it. They’re playing smaller, and they’re better now shooting the basketball, and they’re moving the ball a lot better. In some ways, this might be a much stronger team moving down the road.”
After opening the season with seven games in a three-week period, Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt marks just the second time the Yellow Jackets will play over a three-week span through Dec. 18, when Tech next takes the floor. It makes the loss at Miami and the Vanderbilt game more important for Tech’s long-term goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament, according to Hewitt.
“You look around the country and see so many upsets going on,” said Hewitt, “and if we could have pulled [Miami] out, we would have just one loss against the No. 1 team in the country (UCLA). That was an opportunity to separate ourselves. That’s a lost opportunity, obviously, so now we’ve got to build some momentum back up. Here’s another game where we can separate ourselves.”
After Saturday’s game, the Yellow Jackets break for final exams before playing a pair of home games against Centenary (Dec. 18) and Georgia (Dec. 22).