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Tech Looks for Season Sweep at Miami

Feb. 25, 2005

ATLANTA –

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Georgia Tech, facing two road games in its final three regular-season contests, visits Miami Saturday at 4 p.m. in its first-ever trip to the Convocation Center in Coral Gables. Saturday’s game begins a stretch of three straight “Senior Night” games Tech will be a part of, including the final home games of the regular season for the Hurricanes, Wake Forest next Wednesday, and its own Senior Day on Mar. 5 when Clemson visits Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

Saturday’s game will be televised by the Raycom/Jefferson-Pilot ACC Network, and can be seen in Atlanta on WATL (WB36). Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Network, and the game airs in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790) and WREK-FM (91.1), as well as nationally on XM Satellite Radio (Ch. 191).

The Yellow Jackets (15-9, 6-7 ACC) dropped below .500 in the ACC Wednesday following a 60-56 homecourt loss to No. 7 Duke. Tech, 2-4 on the road in the ACC, has not been able to put together two straight wins since opening the ACC slate with victories over Miami and Virginia in early January, and the Jackets have alternated wins and losses since their 102-101 triumph over Wake Forest on Jan. 27.

Tech is in sixth place in the conference standings, one game behind fourth-place Virginia Tech (7-6). Miami and Maryland are tied for fifth at 7-7, and NC State is a game behind Tech at 5-8.

Miami (16-9, 7-7 ACC) is 4-6 over its last 10 games, but won last time out with a 65-49 victory over Florida State. The Hurricanes are 4-3 at home in conference play this season, having defeated NC State, FSU, Clemson and Maryland.

Tech has played several close games since Jan. 1, beginning with a two-point overtime loss at Kansas. The Jackets’ last four ACC wins have been achieved by a total of 13 points, three of those on the game’s final possession. Six of Tech’s last nine games have been decided by four points or fewer, three others by less than 10.

Tech remains the ACC leader in scoring defense (65.2 ppg), field goal percentage defense (38.1 pct.) and three-point defense (30.4 pct.), and also rates fifth, second and fourth in the league in those categories for ACC games only. Tech continues to struggle offensively, however, scoring no more than 76 points in any of their last 11 games except the Wake Forest game (102). In its last two home games, the Yellow Jackets have scored a total of 107 points, shot 40.8 percent from the floor and 1-for-19 from three-point range.

The Yellow Jackets, who have had all 14 of their players dressed and available for only six games all season, welcomed back senior guard B.J. Elder (missed the first nine ACC games with a left hamstring strain) and freshman forward Jeremis Smith (missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap) on Feb. 8 at Clemson. Elder has averaged 10.8 points in his four games back on the court, while Smith has averaged 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds off the bench.

B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.) returned to the starting lineup for the last two games against Florida State and Duke. He responded by scoring 16 of Tech’s first 30 points (including four threes), and finished with a game-high 22 at FSU, including the game-winning free throws with 0.4 seconds showing on the clock. Elder, who replaced Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.) in the starting five, has averaged 10.8 points in four games since returning to the court at Clemson on Feb. 8. The 6-4 senior is averaging 12.5 for the season, shooting 41.3 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from the three-point line.

He is joined in the starting lineup by 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), one of the nation’s best point guards. A mid-season candidate for the Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award, Jack ranks 13th in the ACC in scoring (15.3 ppg), fifth in assists (4.54 per game), seventh in field goal percentage (50.8), seventh in three-point percentage (40.5) and third in free throw percentage (88.7). He scored 20 points to lead Tech against Duke, and has averaged 16.2 points over his last five games.

The rest of the starting five includes three other seniors in 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.3 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds per game; and 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and third in blocked shots (2.00 per game), has averaged 11.7 points over his last seven games, including six double-figure efforts. Muhammad, who had averaged 12.0 points over nine games, has gotten into foul trouble in the last two and scored just six points total. Bynum, a 6-0 junior from Chicago, Ill., who started every ACC game before FSU, is Tech’s second-leading scorer (12.7 ppg) in conference games, and has averaged 12.0 points per game overall.

Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap, has averaged 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in three games since his return on Feb. 8. He lifted Tech with six points and three boards at Florida State, and against Duke scored four points with six rebounds and three assists.

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 gave Tech a lift off the bench offensively in games against Maryland, Florida State (career-high 10 points) and Duke.

Tech’s other freshmen, 6-9 center Ra’Sean Dickey (Clio, S.C.) and 6-5 wingman Anthony Morrow (Charlotte, N.C.) have taken on more importance since mid-December. Morrow has made 37.7 percent of his three-pointers this season overall and has five double-figure games off the bench. Dickey, who has shot 61.2 percent from the floor to lead the team (61.8 pct. in ACC games), entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center.

QUOTING COACH HEWITT

On the loss to Duke — “That was a very difficult defeat for us. At home, if you hold somebody to 34 percent from the field, you hope to be able to win those type of ballgames. It’s very disappointing that we didn’t. It’s a good thing that we have a game coming up on Saturday so we can get back out there and try to figure this thing out.”

On the importance of Tech’s last three games — “I think in every February game you realize the importance of it. For us right now, it’s about playing well against Miami. I know this thing can turn very quickly. We were 6-7 last year, going on the road. It’s amazing the scenario. I don’t have to remind anybody how quickly this thing can turn.”

On Tech’s offensive problems not affecting defense — “Our guys are playing very hard. They’re putting themselves in position to get some baskets. The one thing I’m proud of is that they continued to defend very, very well. We held a pretty good team, a high scoring team, to 34 percent from the floor and 60 points. The one thing you like about a veteran team is that they don’t allow their offense to impact their defense. Yes, our offense is not smooth right now, but we continue to defend, which is the sign of a mature team.”

SERIES NOTES VS. MIAMI

> Georgia Tech has won three of four prior meetings with Miami, including an 80-69 victory on Jan. 6 of this season in Atlanta. Will Bynum led four players in double figures for Tech with 21 points and seven assists. Luke Schenscher scored 15, Jarrett Jack 14 and Anthony Morrow 10. Tech was outrebounded in the game, 46-40, but held the Hurricanes to 37 percent shooting from the floor (4-of-20 from three).

> The most recent meeting between the two schools prior to Miami’s joining the ACC occurred in December of 1997 as part of the Orange Bowl Classic doubleheader at Miami Arena, the Hurricanes’ home court until the team moved into the on-campus Convocation Center last year. The Yellow Jackets, led that year by senior forward Matt Harpring, won that game, 69-61.

> Tech played Miami twice under former head coach Whack Hyder, losing the first-ever meeting in the series by 22 points in 1953, then taking a six-point homecourt victory in 1967. That was the only previous visit by the Hurricanes to Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and the 90-84 Tech win has been the highest scoring game in the brief series. Ted Tomasovich led the Yellow Jackets with 27 points.

> The Hurricanes are playing their first season under former Texas assistant Frank Haith, who replaced Perry Clark. Clark was an assistant coach under Bobby Cremins for six seasons (1982-88) before becoming the head coach at Tulane (11 years) and Miami (four years).

> Neither Paul Hewitt nor Haith had ever faced a team coached by the other during their head coaching careers, nor had either coach faced each other’s current school until this season. The last time the two teams met, in 1997, Bobby Cremins was in his 17th season at Georgia Tech, and current Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton was the head man at Miami.

WALKING A TIGHTROPE

Georgia Tech has won most of its games this season, particularly its ACC victories, by coming out aggressively and taking the lead early. Not that the Yellow Jackets have made it easy on themselves even then.

Tech has led by double digits in each of its last four ACC wins, but has had to squeeze out the victory on its final possession in three of those games. The Yellow Jackets led 71-59 with 7:09 remaining Sunday at Florida State, but watched the entire lead disappear as Al Thornton’s jumper over Luke Schenscher dropped in for a 75-74 Seminole lead with 9.7 seconds left. On Tech’s last possesson, B.J. Elder wound up with the ball after Jarrett Jack almost lost it out of bounds, was fouled with 0.4 seconds left and made both free throws for the 76-75 victory.

> Against Wake Forest, Tech led by as many as 17 in the first half and 14 in the second half, lost the entire lead by the final minute and survived a layup attempt by Chris Paul at the end of regulation to force overtime. In OT, Jack was fouled with four seconds on the clock, and made both free throws to give Tech a 102-101 lead. Paul’s last shot missed.

> In Tech’s first meeting with Florida State, Tech outscored the Seminoles 27-9 over the first 10 minutes of the second half in building a 12-point lead. FSU pulled even at 61-all in the final minute, but Will Bynum sank a three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left for the 64-61 victory.

> Even against Miami in its conference opener, Tech saw a 46-32 halftime lead evaporate to one in the second half, but responded with its own run and won 80-69.

WALKING A TIGHTROPE, PART 2

Six of Tech’s last nine games have been decided by four points or less, and Tech is 3-3 in those games. The Yellow Jackets have not won a game by more than eight points since Virginia on Jan. 8.

Tech has lost three conference games at home this season (Virginia Tech, NC State, Duke) by a total of seven points. By the same token, Tech has won three games by three points or less (Wake Forest, FSU twice), two of those at home.

OFFENSE SPUTTERS AT HOME, BETTER ON THE ROAD

Georgia Tech has had its difficulties on offense since its 2-0 start in conference play, averaging 69.2 points over 11 games. Take out the 102-101 win over Wake Forest, and the average is 65.9.

One of the oddities of the recent games, however, is that Tech has produced its poorest offensive games at home in losses to NC State (53-51) and Duke (60-56), while posting two of its better games on the road in victories over Clemson (70-62) and Florida State (76-75).

Tech shot 53.0 percent, 41.4 percent from three-point range, in the two road wins, while also making 70 percent of its free throws. In the two home games, the Yellow Jackets shot just 40.8 percent overall, and were 1-for-19 from behind the arc.

One common element over the four-game stretch is that Tech has not taken many shots (less than 50 field goal attempts per game, 12 three-point attempts per game) and turned the ball over too much (18.3 per game).

JACK, SCHENSCHER CONSTANTS IN RECENT GAMES

Jarrett Jack and Luke Schenscher have been the most consistent players for Georgia Tech offensively over the last several games, even as the Yellow Jackets have struggled to maintain consistency as a whole.

Jack has averaged 16.2 points over his last five games, all double-figure efforts, beginning with the first Duke game on Feb. 5. He scored 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting Wednesday night and is shooting an even 50 percent (29-for-58) from the floor during the period and is 20-for-22 from the foul line.

Schenscher has drawn plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but he has quietly begun to overcome the extra burden. The 7-1 senior has averaged 11.7 points over his last seven games, reaching double figures in scoring six times and posting a pair of double-doubles. He has made 35 of 65 shots (53.8 pct.) from the floor in that stretch.

Defensively, he has done excellent work against the opposing centers for the most part. Only Shelden Williams of Duke had a good statistical game against Schenscher, with 15 points and 12 boards in the first meeting and 12 and 10 in the second. The other five combined for 16 points (6-for-20 FG) and 14 rebounds.

DEFENSE REMAINS TIGHT

Defensive pressure, both half-court and full-court, continues to be the foundation and the catalyst for Georgia Tech. Tech has allowed its opponents to shoot just 38.3 percent this season (only nine teams have managed 40 percent), which is the best in the ACC currently and No. 8 in the nation this week.

> Tech leads in the ACC in scoring defense at 65.2 points per game, having led the league through the pre-conference schedule. Tech has held seven teams to 70 or fewer in conference play, winning four of those.

> Even as Tech has struggled offensively of late, it continues to defend well, holding its last four opponents to 62.5 points per game, 42.1 percent shooting from the floor and 29.5 percent from three-point range.

> For the season, Tech has allowed teams to shoot just 30.4 percent from three-point range, still the lowest yield in the ACC. The Jackets have held six teams to 25 percent or less..

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