Dec. 1, 2006
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech opens its 28th season of competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a visit to one of the league’s newest members Sunday when the Yellow Jackets visit Miami for a nationally televised game at 5:30 p.m. at the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla.
Fox Sports Net will carry the game nationally as the middle game of its Sunday ACC triple-header. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network and can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790). The game can also be heard nationally on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 193, and online at www.ramblinwreck.com.
Sunday’s game marks Tech’s second visit to the BankUnited Center, where head coach Paul Hewitt’s team pulled out a 76-72 victory during the 2004-05 season.
The Yellow Jackets bring a 6-1 overall record and the nation’s No. 21 ranking in the Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the coaches poll into Sunday’s game. Tech is ranked 12th in the Sagarin ratings. Miami is 4-3 following a 61-59 loss at Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Last time out, Tech defeated Penn State, 77-73, at home on Tuesday, and continued to play well on the offensive end of the court, firing in 54.9 percent of its shots and 10-of-24 three-point field goals. The Yellow Jackets remain No. 2 in the ACC in scoring offense (86.7 ppg), lead the ACC in field goal percentage (52.1 pct.) and rank second in three-point field foal percentage (40.0 pct.).
Six players in Tech’s regular nine-man rotation have hit better than 50 percent of their shots, and three are over 60 percent. Lewis Clinch, Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton have combined to make 31-of-63 three-point attempts (49.2 percent). Anthony Morrow has heated up in the last two games, making 6-of-12 to improve his season rate to 30.8 percent.
But head coach Paul Hewitt is looking for better things out of his team on the defensive end. Tech ranks in the bottom half of the league in most of the defensive categories.
“In order to string some wins together, we’ve got to become better defensively,” Hewitt said Thursday. “I think, offensively, we’re a very strong basketball team. Defensively, we’ve got a ways to go before we can consider ourselves a good team.”
Tech’s starting lineup for the first six games 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 is expected to play against Miami.
Steadiest among the group has been sophomore Lewis Clinch, who leads the Yellow Jackets and ranks seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring at 17.4 points a game. Having reached double digits in each game, the 6-3 guard from Cordele, Ga., also ranks sixh in the ACC in field goal percentage (58.9) and third in three-point percentage (48.6). He made the all-tournament team in Maui, averaging 17.3 points, and scored 20 points in Tech’s last game against Penn State.
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 14.1 points (47.5 pct. FG) and 5.9 assists, third-best in the ACC. Young, a 6-8 McDonald’s All-American from Mitchell High School in Memphis, Tenn., also has averaged 14.2 points while hitting 50.8 percent of his field goal tries and pulling down 4.5 rebounds per game. Like Clinch, he has reached double figures in every game he has played.
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 8.3 points and 3.0 rebounds while making 62.2 percent of his field goals. He scored 13 against Purdue and 12 vs. UCLA out in Maui.
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 6.6 rebounds. He leads Tech in field goal percentage (65.1 percent) and scored a season-high 21 points with nine rebounds against Memphis.
Off the bench, four players are averaging double-digit minutes, including Ra’Sean Dickey (6.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 52.8 FG pct.), a 6-10 junior who started 20 games last year; 6-5 senior guard Mario West (5.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 75 pct. FG); 6-10 red-shirt freshman forward Mouhammad Faye (4.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and 6-5 junior guard Anthony Morrow (6.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), who started all 30 games last year but is working his way back from a back injury.
West, in particular, has drawn great praise from Hewitt in the last week for his efforts at both ends of the floor in Tech’s wins over No. 11 Memphis and Penn State.
“If he’s not on the court, we lose by 20, and the same thing the other night,” said Hewitt. “He and Jeremis Smith were all over the court getting deflections, causing turnovers and making tough defensive plays. He’s been terrific, Mario has. If I had to give somebody the MVP honor seven games in, hands down, it’s Mario West.”
Tech is 2-1 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 13-35 in ACC road games under Paul Hewitt, 20-47 on the road overall.
Tech and Miami have faced each other only six times previously in men’s basketball, and the Yellow Jackets hold a 4-2 edge, including a 2-1 mark in games played in Miami. The Hurricanes defeated Tech, 70-53, last year in Atlanta, the teams’ only meeting.
Only four of Tech’s current players saw action in the Yellow Jackets’ last visit to Miami — Ra’Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Mario West — and they combined to score 31 of Tech’s 76 points.
The Hurricanes are led by Jack McClinton, a 6-1 sophomore guard who sat out last season after transferring from Siena, where Hewitt coached before coming to Tech. McClinton averaged 20.9 points a game and has hit 55.6 percent of his three-point field goals.
Sunday marks the ninth time Georgia Tech has played an ACC game in the month of December, having first done so in 1981. Tech has a 4-4 record in early ACC games. The Yellow Jackets have played a December conference game in four of the last six years, counting this one. Also, six of the nine early ACC encounters have been played on the road.
QUOTING COACH HEWITT
On the number of talented freshmen in college basketball – “People have made so much of the influx of talent because of the NBA rule. When you have so many talented young players, they don’t realize how hard it is. They have to ratchet it up and play with the intensity that all of us coaches are looking for.”
More on Mario West – “He sets such a great example for us defensively. He works so hard. He doesn’t have to say a lot. He does speak up, which I love. He and Jeremis are stepping forward as the leaders of this team in my opinion. He sets such a great example in terms of his effort. When you’ve got a guy like that who understands what is all about, the others understand because he’s been there. He was at the Final Four. He’s been to the ACC Championship game. He’s been on very successful teams.”
On Tech’s freshmen melding with the veterans – “For us to be a successful team this year, it’s going to come down to the older guys. Ra’Sean has got to be more consistent. Jeremis has got to play the way he’s been playing. The young guys have come in with a high level of enthusiasm. They’re extremely competitive, starting with Javaris, who’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever been around. They have brought that competitiveness to practice.”
On Mouhammad Faye – “Very smart player, great feel for the game. He just has a feel for the game. He’ll figure out how to get the play done. He’s still not 100 percent. Having that wrist injury in the off-season robbed him of valuable time in the weight room, which he’s trying to make up for now. He can really pass the basketball. As his wrist gets healthier and he gets his range of motion back, you’ll see he’s a very good outside shooter as well.”
On Tech’s team speed – “I tell them all the time, for your speed to be a factor, you’ve got to do it on the defensive end and on the glass. It’s hard for your speed to be a factor when you’re taking the ball out of the net all the time. That’s why we spend so much time working on our defense, getting in the habit of being disruptive.”