Dec. 2, 2003
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech can count itself among the hunted for the first time in nearly six years when it visits Ohio State at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
For the first time since December of 1997, the Yellow Jackets are in the national rankings – No. 13 by the Associate Press writers poll and No. 15 by the ESPN/USAToday coaches poll. Tech bolted up the ladder by knocking off No. 1 Connecticut and No. 25 Texas Tech last week to win the Preseason NIT and improve its record to 5-0. The Yellow Jackets received three first-place votes by the writers.
The Jackets last appeared in the coaches poll on Dec. 22, 1997, at No. 23, and was last in the AP rankings on Dec. 8 of that year at No. 24. The last time Tech was ranked as high as No. 13 was the final two AP polls of the 1995-96 season, when the Yellow Jackets advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 and finished the season 24-12.
As Tech prepares to meet the Buckeyes (2-2) in a nationally televised game Wednesday at Value City Arena (WTSH-Radio, 107.1 in Atlanta), head coach Paul Hewitt maintains that his team’s surge is the result of a veteran team playing as it should.
“It is only Dec. 1,” said Hewitt Monday, “so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s nice for our players to be recognized, but again, it is Dec. 1, and we’ve got a tough game on the road Wednesday night. That’s what we’re focusing on right now.
“It might be a surprise to some, but I don’t think it is to anybody who has watched us in practice every day. These guys have worked very, very hard. We realized early in practice that we had a chance to be a very good basketball team. I couldn’t tell you we would be at this point this soon, but we have a lot of potential, and we just have to keep working on it.
Tech is off to its first 5-0 start since 1994-95. Tech has begun a season 5-0 only five times since the 1959-60 season, the year Tech received its first NCAA Tournament invitation. Tech’s top undefeated starts in that span are as follows: 1959-60 (6-0), 1970-71 (6-0), 1977-78 (6-0), 1989-90 (10-0), 1994-95 (6-0).
“If this was a young team, I would be worried,” said Hewitt. “But most of these guys have been through an awful lot, watching us struggle as a young team two years ago. They understand that as easily as this came, it could go back just as fast. So far, their hard work and attention to detail has paid off.”
Georgia Tech and Ohio State are meeting for the 13th time. The Buckeyes own a 10-2 advantage in the series, which began with an 86-69 win in the first round of the 1960 NCAA Tournament. Ohio State went on to win its only national championship that year.
Tech won the most recent encounter, 72-58, in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last March 19 in Atlanta (see box score for details).
The Yellow Jackets are 0-5 in their previous trips to Columbus, most recently dropping a 75-67 decision to OSU on Dec. 23, 1974. The average margin of victory in those five games was nine points.
Tech is 3-0 against OSU head coach Jim O’Brien. Prior to last year’s homecourt win, the Yellow Jackets defeated two of O’Brien’s Boston College teams, in the 1996 NCAA Tournament in Orlando (103-89) and the 1986 Suntory Ball Tournament in Tokyo, Japan (65-62, ot).
The Buckeyes lost their first two games of the season before rallying to upend Central Michigan and Villanova in the Maui Invitational last week.
“They’re a very strong physical team,” said Hewitt. “J.J. Sullinger and Tony Stockman are two very good outside shooter who we must make sure to tag. They do a great job of running their half-court offense. They screen as well as anybody we’re going to see all year, so we have to be ready to defend the way we have all season.”
Tech has outscored its first five opponents by 22 points a game, with the closest margin of victory being the 77-61 victory over No. 1 Connecticut. Four Tech players are averaging 14 points or better per game (six reached double figures against Texas Tech), and the Yellow Jackets are shooting 49.7 percent from the floor overall, 37.1 percent from three-point range.
It is defense, however, which has driven the Tech bus, so to speak, and created the offensive opportunities. The Jackets have yet to allow a team to shoot 40 percent this season, and have limited the five foes collectively to 36.1 percent overall and 26.5 percent from three-point range while forcing 19.4 turnovers a game. Against Texas Tech, the Jackets held two Red Raider starters scoreless and a third to just two points.
“We played very well (in New York),” said Hewitt. “Now we have to sustain it. People are now going to look at us differently. But we’ve got Marvin Lewis, who is a senior, Robert Brooks, who is a senior, Clarence Moore, who is a senior, and a whole bunch of juniors who have been through some struggles. This is the most experienced team I have coached here, and I know we have talent.”
Tech has employed the same starting lineup for all five of its games this season — 6-3 Jarrett Jack at point guard, 6-4 Marvin Lewis and 6-4 B.J. Elder on the wings, 6-7 Anthony McHenry at the strong forward spot and 7-1 Luke Schenscher at center.
Lewis, a senior, and Elder, a junior, are Tech’s top two returning scorers from last year’s squad and have begun this season in similar fashion. Elder leads the Jackets at 16.6 points a game after averaging 19.0 in the two NIT games last week in New York, while Lewis is fourth on the squad at 14.0 points a game. Lewis is shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 34.4 percent from three-point range. Elder has shot just 40.5 percent this season, but was 16-of-36 (44.4 percent) in New York.
Jack has been impressive in many respects, averaging 14.6 points a game (third on the team) and 8.8 assists per game (leads the ACC) while hitting 57.8 percent of his field goal tries (second on the team, 14th in the ACC). He is also Tech’s leading rebounder (6.2 per game, 7.0 in New York), and ranks second in the ACC in steals (3.2 per game).
Schenscher, a junior who averages 7.0 points and 4.0 rebounds a game, scored a career-high 15 points at Cornell, and did a solid defensive job on UConn all-American Emeka Okafor Wednesday night, holding the 6-10 junior to 9 points and 2-of-10 shooting from the floor. He scored 10 points with five boards in the championship game against Texas Tech. McHenry, also a junior, has been solid with 3.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, and has recorded 12 assists against four turnovers, blocked six shots (tops on the team) and taken five steals.
Tech’s top reserve has been junior forward Isma’il Muhammad, a 6-6 defensive whiz who has become a force offensively, averaging 15.0 points (second on the team) while hitting 69.6 percent of his field goals. He earned MVP honors at the Preseason NIT after scoring 38 points in the two games in New York, and has scored in double figures off the bench in every game this season.
The other primary players off the bench include Clarence Moore, a 6-5 senior forward averaging 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds; Robert Brooks, a 6-8 senior postman averaging 3.2 points and 3.6 rebounds (7-of-12 from the floor); and 6-4 red-shirt freshman Mario West, a defensive specialist who averages 1.4 rebounds per game.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-0, 0-0 ACC) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-2, 0-0 Big Ten)
December 3, 2003 * 7 p.m. * Value City Arena (19,200)
TV: ESPN; Dave Strader, pbp; Tim McCormick, Steve Lavin, analysts Radio: WTSH-FM (107.1); Wes Durham, pbp; Randy Waters, color Tech Record Breakdown: Home: 2-0; Away: 1-0; Neutral: 2-0 Series Breakdown vs. Ohio State: Ohio State leads, 10-2 Last Meeting: 3-19-03 (Georgia Tech d. Ohio State, 72-58, in Atlanta; first round of post-season NIT)
Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt: 119-71 (.624), 7th season overall 53-44 (.542), 4th season at Tech 1-0 vs. Ohio State
Ohio State Coach Jim O’Brien: 356-291 (.723), 22nd season overall 121-74 (.690), 7th season at Ohio State 0-3 vs. Georgia Tech (0-1 at OSU)
Next for Georgia Tech: Dec. 6 vs. Tennessee State, 7 p.m. Next for Ohio State: Dec. 6 vs. Virginia Tech, 2 p.m.
Tech in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge
This is Georgia Tech’s fifth game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, having gone 1-3 in the previous four years. With the exception of the 2000 loss at Iowa (85-67), the games have been close, the other three decided by a total of five points.
Tech’s lone victory was a 62-61 triumph over Wisconsin in its only home-court game in the annual event. The Jackets rallied from a 20-point deficit in the second half to win that one. In the other games, Tech lost to Michigan, 80-77, at Philips Arena in Atlanta in 1999, lost at Iowa, 85-67 in 2000, and lost 64-63 at Minnesota last year.
After losing their first 10 games on the road last season, Georgia Tech travels to Columbus Wednesday night having won five of its last seven games away from home and three of its last four on opponents’ home courts, including a 90-69 win at Cornell on Nov. 23 and two wins last week over No. 1 Connecticut and No. 25 Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden.
Tech was 2-11 on opponents’ home courts last year, including an 1-7 mark in the ACC. Tech’s only other win away from home came against Marist at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 7, and the Jackets lost their only other neutral court games to Tennessee on Dec. 15 and NC State in the ACC Tournament.