Nov. 25, 2004
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech, ranked No. 3 nationally in the Associated Press media poll and by the coaches, returns home to Alexander Memorial Coliseum for its third game of the season, facing Arkansas-Little Rock at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Yellow Jackets (2-0) defeated Alabama State, 74-37, last Friday night in their season opener, then survived a 60-59 scare at Illinois-Chicago Monday night. The Trojans (1-1) defeated Southern Arkansas, 82-63, in their opener before falling, 90-65, at Oklahoma State Tuesday night.
The game will not be televised, but can be heard on radio over the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, including flagship station WQXI-AM (790) and Tech student station WREK-FM (91.1) in Atlanta.
Tech, which posted a 28-10 record last year, tying a school record for wins, and advanced all the way to the NCAA championship game, began the season with its highest national ranking since the 1985-86 squad held the top spot in the preseason AP poll. Tech has been nationally ranked for 20 consecutive weeks dating back to last Dec. 1, when the Jackets were No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship.
Tech, which was 12-3 at home last season, has won 28 of its last 33 games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets have won 16 consecutive non-conference games at home, and have a 135-8 mark against non-conference opposition at the Thrillerdome since the 1981-82 season.
Chief among Tech’s returning players are five seniors – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), Tech’s leading scorer last year who is currentoly averaging 16.0 points per game; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.5 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 5.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 8.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 7.0 points and 3.5 assists.
They are joined by one of the nation’s best point guards, 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), averaging 15.0 points and 3.5 assists per game while also hitting 60 percent of his field goal attempts and 90 percent of his free throws.
From those six will come Tech’s starting five throughout the early part of the season. Muhammad started Tech’s opener against Alabama State, while Bynum replaced him in the lineup for Tech’s game at Illinois-Chicago. The other four have started both games.
Elder, a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards, has taken on a greater share of Tech’s scoring load but has not shot the ball particularly well (35.3 percent overall, 27.8 percent from three-point range). He did, however, hit a trio of big three-point baskets in the final 10 minutes of Monday’s win at Illinois-Chicago, which proved to be the Yellow Jackets’ only field goals during that stretch. Elder has also rebounded well (4.0 per game) and turned the ball over just twice in two games
Muhammad has been a force defensively while also hitting the boards at a rate of 8.5 per game, including 10 against Alabama State, while hitting 57.1 percent of his shots from the floor. Schenscher is shooting 58.3 percent from the floor, and knocked down two big free throws with 25.9 seconds left to provide Tech’s winning margin at Illinois-Chicago.
Head coach Paul Hewitt, now in his fifth season at Tech, expects quality help off the bench from 6-9 junior Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), who has played very well throughout preseason practice and shown no ill effects from the dislocated knee that kept him out of 13 games last season. Tarver averaged 7.0 points in the two exhibitions, made 6 of 8 shots from the floor, averaged 3.5 rebounds and was active on defense. He had six blocked shots to go with six rebounds against Alabama State.
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively off the bench. The sophomore had seven steals against LeMoyne and nine rebounds against Alabama State.
Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, is coming along slowly but will provide needed help in various roles. Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, played his first game Monday night after sitting out the Alabama State game with a leg injury. He scored just two points (both on free throws), but took six rebounds and blocked two shots.
Ra’Sean (pronounced ruh-SHON) Dickey, a 6-9 forward-center from Clio (pronounced KLY-oh), S.C., combines with Schenscher and Tarver to give the Jackets good size and strength at the center position, but has not yet played in the regular season. Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., and Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., can supply added scoring punch from the perimeter.
Tech vs. Arkansas-Little Rock
This will be the first meeting between Georgia Tech and Arkansas-Little Rock in men’s basketball, and neither head coach has ever met the other team.
Tech is 3-0 all-time against current members of the Sun Belt Conference, including a 79-45 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette last season in the first round of the Preseason NIT.
UALR is led by Brandon Freeman, a 6-2 senior guard averaging 31 points for the Trojans in their first two games. Freeman scored 25 against the 6th-ranked Cowboys.
Defense Remains Tech’s Foundation
Defensive pressure, both half-court and full-court, was the catalyst for Georgia Tech all last season and has remained so throughout the first part of Tech’s 2004-05 campaign. Tech has allowed its two opponents to shoot just 30.4 percent (34.4 percent by UIC, 25.5 percent by Alabama State), which is the best in the ACC.
Tech ranked first in the ACC in field goal percentage defense in all games (38.8 pct.) last season, was first in league games only (40.8 pct.), and was the sixth-best in NCAA Division I basketball. Tech also led the ACC in both three-point percentage defense in all games (29.7 pct.) and also was first league games only (32.2 pct.).
> Tech’s FG percentage allowance last year was the fifth lowest in school history, and the three-point yield was a school record.
> Tech allowed only 16 teams in 38 games to shoot 40 percent or better from the floor. Only four reached 50 percent.
> Tech also ranked third in the ACC and 30th nationally in blocked shots (4.53 per game), and ranked second in the conference in league games only (5.5 per game).
Tech in the Thrillerdome
Georgia Tech is playing its 49th season at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center, and the Jackets have a record of 479-163 (.746) in the building, which opened Nov. 30, 1956 with a 71-61 Tech loss to Duke. Since the 1981-82 season, Tech is 241-62 (.795) in its on-campus home.
The Yellow Jackets were 12-3 at home last season, and have won 27 of their last 32 games in the Thrillerdome dating back to the final two home games of 2001-02.
Tech is 134-8 against non-conference opposition at Alexander Memorial Coliseum since the beginning of the 1981-82 season. Three of those eight losses occurred in the 2001-02 season to Penn, Tulane and IUPUI. From 1981 through last season, the only other non-ACC teams to win at the Thrillerdome were Georgia (2000), Penn State (1998), College of Charleston (1993), Louisville (1989), and Richmond (1987).
Georgia Tech played to sellout crowds every home game after its run to the Preseason NIT championship, and that included all of Tech’s home games during the break between fall and winter semesters. The Thrillerdome has been sold out for this entire season since early summer.
Tech Stock Tips
> Other than Jack, Muhammad and Schenscher, Tech has not shot the ball well in its first two games, hitting just 40.8 percent overall from the floor, 21.4 percent from three-point range and 58.7 percent from the foul line. Historically, the Jackets have started slowly and improved as the season has progressed, particularly from the foul line.
> Tech has blocked 18 shots in two games, including a career-best six by Theodis Tarver against Alabama State, and has had only one of its own shot attempts blocked. Tech has allowed opponents to shoot just 30.4 percent from the floor in two games.
> Tech has rebounded well, albeit against two smaller teams, outboarding Alabama State by 18 and Illinois-Chicago by six. The Jackets have taken an average of 16.5 offensive rebounds and turned them into 26 total points.
> Tech turned the ball over 20 times at Illinois-Chicago, the Flames turning those into 14 points. That was a departure from the opener against Alabama State, when the Jackets committed 12 turnovers but allowed no points from them.
> Tech has 35 assists on 49 field goals, a rate of 71.4 percent.
QUOTING COACH HEWITT
On Tech’s offensive problems
“I can’t say I expected UIC to play zone, but with the way we shot the ball the first night, it didn’t surprise me. We’re going to start hitting shots. We lost a guy that can shoot the ball, but more than anything else, it’s the experience. Zam Fredrick and Anthony Morrow can shoot the ball. If this is hockey and I can change on the fly, put them out there on offense and replace them on defense … Until their defense comes around, I can’t put them in that position. If it’s going to be a one-possession game, I don’t want that possession to be a turnover or a defensive mistake by a freshman.”
On Tech’s freshmen developing slowly
“A couple of them were in my office today talking about some of the games that have been on TV, and commenting about how some of the heralded freshmen aren’t getting playing time. I tell them, what do you expect? It’s a big difference. They’re playing at a whole different level now. The game is faster, the players are stronger. They don’t know how to get their shot off yet. I tell them not to feel bad, that they’ll be factors.
“Through practice, they’re going to earn longer stretches on the court. I know that it’s tough to find you’re rhythm when you’re in an out of the game. The other night, I felt we couldn’t afford to have a freshman mistake on defense. Jeremis played very, very well in the first half. So we decided to play it conservatively. It was just the second game of the year, and we obviously wanted to win it. I thought that was the best way to go.
“They’ll get their chances. We need them to get their chances. Jeremis is a good player. I think he is going to be one of the better freshmen in our league.”
On Ra’Sean Dickey not having yet played
“I expect him to play tomorrow night. I had discussed the possibility of red-shirting with him. That’s one of the reasons he didn’t play in the first game. We discussed it for a little while, but he prefers to play.
“He has a tremendous ability to score with the basketball. But he does not play strong enough with the ball right now. You saw how he ended practice (with a strong dunk over his defender). He can do that anytime he wants. But most of the time he catches it and goes up like he’s going against some 6-foot-6 guy. He’s had moments like that. He’s probably our second-best back-to-the-basket scorer. But the problem is that with each one of those, there are more turnovers.
“He can score. He’s good. He’s strong, had great hands and a great touch around the basket. He has excellent footwork. He needs to protect the basketball better.”
“If Theo had it to do over again, he’d have taken a red-shirt. If he had three years of eligibility left counting this year, who knows? He’s stretching his game out now where he can guard perimeter players. He even guarded Cedrick Banks for a couple of possessions. Offensively, he’s getting better. You can see it coming.”
On Tech’s shooting
“Will’s not shooting the ball great. B.J.’s not shooting the ball great. No one is shooting the ball great. Jarrett hurt his wrist the other day, which hampered him.”
On involving Schenscher in the offense more
“We need to do a lot better job of getting [Luke] the ball. I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that. It’s bad passing. [Against UIC] I probably could have made a better emphasis on that.”
On Tech’s win over UIC
“It’s going to be a positive thing. That early in the year, I’m glad we won it. But win or lose, it’s going to be positive for us to have played in that environment. Jeremis (Smith) was the only freshman who played, but the other freshmen saw that it’s for real here. They’re going to learn as they go through the season that there are a lot of Cedrick Banks’s around, players that didn’t get hype coming out. But they’re players.”