Dec. 19, 2003
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s fifth-ranked basketball team puts its unbeaten 9-0 record on the line Sunday when it hosts St. John’s at 3 p.m. at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
The Yellow Jackets, attempting to win 10 straight games for the first time since the 1985-86 season, have a national television stage Sunday with its first of three appearances on Fox Sports Net’s “ACC Sunday Night Hoops.” Radio coverage can be heard on WQXI-AM (790). The game is nearly sold out, but a limited number of tickets will be available at the gate.
Tech last won 10 straight games during the 1985-86 season, when the Jackets won a school-record 15 in a row en route to a 16-1 start. Tech’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest for a Paul Hewitt-coached Yellow Jacket team.
A win Sunday would make the Yellow Jackets only the third Tech team ever to start a season 10-0. Tech was 10-0 in 1989-90 on the way to an ACC championship and the Institute’s only Final Four berth. The Jackets’ best-ever start was 11-0 in 1962-63, a season which ended 21-5 without a post-season invitation.
Tech has outscored its opponents by 25.2 points a game, a figure which leads the ACC and ranks second in the nation to Texas (31.0). Tech’s opponents are shooting just 34.2 percent from the floor (only Saint Louis has shot 40 percent in a game), and 24.3 percent from three-point range, both of which lead the ACC. Tech also has a +4.4 turnover margin and has forced more turnovers (179) as it has allowed field goals (176).
But the Yellow Jackets have suffered some second-half lapses after building big leads in their last two games. After leading 49-15 at halftime against Alabama A&M Wednesday night, Tech committed 12 turnovers and shot just 38 percent in the second half and was outscored 26-25, the first time the Jackets have lost a half this season. Tech also built a 23-point lead midway through the second half against Saint Louis, only to be outscored 18-8 down the stretch.
“We need to take care of the basketball,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “For us to have 12 second-half turnovers is just poor concentration. We can’t have that. If we’re going to be a good team, potentially a great team, we can’t have those kinds of errors.
“But we’re 9-0, and we’ve got a great opportunity coming up on Sunday against St. John’s on national TV. I just told the kids that we’ve got to learn some things from that game, but let’s start looking forward. That’s what we need to be focusing on now.”
Four Jackets have scoring averages in double figures for the season, led by 6-4 guard B.J. Elder at 15.1 points per game. Elder, a junior, ranks ninth in the ACC in scoring, has hit 34.1 percent of his three-point attempts and is shooting 41.4 percent overall.
Jarrett Jack, Tech’s point guard, has been impressive in many respects, averaging 12.8 points a game (second on the team, 19th in the ACC) and 7.7 assists per game (2nd in the ACC) while hitting 54.9 percent of his field goal tries and 40.7 percent of his three-point attempts. The 6-3 sophomore is also Tech’s leading rebounder (5.9 per game), ranks fourth in the ACC in steals (2.78 per game) and fifth assist/turnover ratio (2.39-1).
Marvin Lewis, a 6-4 senior guard who is the only player to play in every game Paul Hewitt has coached at Tech, averages 12.2 points a game to rank 23rd in the ACC and fourth on the Tech squad. He has shot 44.4 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three-point range (10th in the ACC).
Luke Schenscher, a 7-1 junior, averages 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds a game for the season from the center position. He has averaged 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds while hitting 60.5 percent of his field goals in the last five games, including a career-best 22 points (on 10-of-14 FG) Wednesday night against Alabama A&M. Anthony McHenry, a 6-7 junior forward, has been solid with 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, and has recorded 17 assists against seven turnovers and blocked 10 shots (tops on the team).
Tech’s top reserve has been junior forward Isma’il Muhammad, a 6-6 defensive whiz who has become a force offensively, averaging 12.6 points (third on the team, 21st in the ACC) while leading the conference in field goal percentage (66.2).
The other primary players off the bench include Clarence Moore, a 6-5 senior forward averaging 5.8 points and 4.2 rebounds; Robert Brooks, a 6-8 senior postman averaging 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds (54.2 percent from the floor); and 6-0 junior Will Bynum, who became eligible Dec. 13 against Saint Louis and has averaged 6.5 points in two games.
Georgia Tech and St. John’s are meeting for the eighth time in a series that dates back to 1970. The teams last met on Nov. 28, 1998, when the Yellow Jackets took a 77-65 decision in the Puerto Rico Shootout in Bayamon, P.R.
The Red Storm holds a 4-3 lead in the series, all of which has been played on neutral floors. Sunday’s game is the first time either team has played on the other’s home court. It is also the first time the teams have met in a game that was not part of a tournament or larger event (such as the ACC-Big East Challenge in 1990).
The seven prior meetings have been decided by an average of 7.7 points, with the largest margin being 12 (Tech’s 77-65 win on Nov. 28, 1998, and St. John’s 67-55 won on Dec. 28, 1996, the last two meetings between the schools).
“They got off to a similar start last year and wound up winning the NIT,” said Hewitt. “They’ve had a 12-day break between games with final exams. But I expect them to play well against us. They can match us physically. They’re strong and athletic, and they present some problems for us on the defensive end of the floor.”
#5/6 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-0, 0-0 ACC) vs. St. John’s (2-4, 0-0 Big East)
December 21, 2003 * 3 p.m. ET Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Atlanta, Ga. (9,191)
TV: Fox Sports Net; Tim Brando, pbp; Dan Bonner, color; Laura Okmin, sidelines
Radio: Georgia Tech/ISP Network (flagship WQXI-AM 790); Wes Durham, pbp; Randy Waters, color
Tech Record Breakdown: Home: 4-0; Away: 2-0; Neutral: 3-0
Series Breakdown vs. St. John’s: St. John’s leads, 4-3 Last meeting: Nov. 28, 1998 (Tech won 77-65 at the Puerto Rico Shootout in Bayamon, P.R.)
Tech at AMC: 471-160
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt: 123-71 (.634), 7th season overall 57-44 (.564), 4th season at Tech 0-0 vs. St. John’s
St. John’s coach Kevin Clark: 0-0 (.000), 1st season overall 0-0 (.000), 1st season at St. John’s 0-0 vs. Georgia Tech
Next for Georgia Tech: Dec. 23 vs. Marist, 2 p.m. ET Next for St. John’s: Dec. 28 vs. Pennsylvania, 4 p.m. ET