Feb. 7, 2005
Georgia Tech, with five of its final eight ACC games away from home, go back on the road Tuesday night for a 7 p.m. game at Clemson, the only conference team the Yellow Jackets have not yet played. Tech looks to even its conference ledger with a victory at Littlejohn Coliseum, a place where head coach Paul Hewitt’s team has tasted victory three out of four times.
Tuesday’s game is being televised over the ACC’s regional cable network, comprised of FSN South, Sunshine Network and Comcast SportsNet. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Network, and the game can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790) and WREK-FM (91.1). The game can also be heard on XM Satellite Radio Ch. 180.
The Yellow Jackets (13-7, 4-5 ACC) have lost five of seven games since a 2-0 start in conference play, including an 82-65 loss at No. 4 Duke Saturday. Tech, winless on the road this season since defeating Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 22, is tied for sixth place in the ACC standings with Maryland.
The Tigers (11-10, 2-7 ACC), tied for last place with Virginia, had last weekend off after scoring an 88-73 win over the No. 22 Terps last Tuesday. It was Clemson’s first victory since a 56-54 triumph at Florida State on Jan. 12, and snapped a five-game losing streak.
Tech remains the ACC leader in field goal percentage defense (37.4 pct.) and three-point defense (30.6 pct.), having held Duke to 37.5 percent from the floor on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets also rank second in scoring defense (65.8 ppg) and blocked shots (6.15 per game).
Tech continues to struggle offensively, however, scoring no more than 71 points in any of their last seven games except the Wake Forest game (102). The trends are similar in all the shooting categories as well: 54.4 percent from the floor against Wake, but no better than 45.8 percent in the other six games over that stretch: 42.9 percent from three-point range, but no better than 33.0 in the other six games.
The Yellow Jackets have played their entire ACC schedule thus far without leading scorer B.J. Elder (13.2 ppg), who strained his left hamstring in the first half of the game at Kansas. Tech also has had to deal with injuries to backup center Ra’Sean Dickey (hyperextended right knee against Virginia, missed one game), Will Bynum and Anthony McHenry (concussions) and Isma’il Muhammad (knee tendinitis) which have forced Tech to be further shorthanded in games and practice. Freshman Jeremis Smith (dislocated kneecap) has been out since the second game of the season.
Tech, which began the season with its highest national ranking (No. 3) since the 1985-86 squad held the top spot in the preseason AP poll, has ended a run of 30 consecutive weeks in both the Associated Press writers’ poll. Tech had debuted at No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship last November, and built the longest running streak in the polls for Tech since a 35-week run that spanned from the 1984-85 season into the middle of the 1986-87 campaign.
The possibility exists that Elder could play at Clemson, but more likely will return against NC State barring a further setback. In his absence, Tech has gone with a starting lineup led by 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.) and 6-0 junior Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), who have become Tech’s primary scorers.
A mid-season candidate for the James Naismith Trophy and called by some the best point guard in the nation, Jack ranks 15th in the ACC in scoring (15.2 ppg), fifth in assists (4.50 per game), seventh in field goal percentage (50.8), eighth in three-point percentage (41.9) and third in free throw percentage (88.6). Bynum has averaged 19.4 points over Tech’s last five games, is averaging 15.6 points per game in ACC games, and 13.1 points and 2.8 assists per game overall.
They are joined in the lineup by three other seniors in 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 9.9 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game; and 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 5.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
Muhammad has scored in double figures in five of his last seven games, averaging 12.4 points over that stretch. Schenscher, who ranks sixth in the ACC in rebounding and third in blocked shots (2.30 per game), has two double-doubles in his last three games, while McHenry is averaging 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in ACC games.
Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, has played more and more since December, with 6-9 center Ra’Sean Dickey (Clio, S.C.) and 6-5 wingman Anthony Morrow (Charlotte, N.C.) giving the Yellow Jackets a huge lift since mid-December.
Morrow has made 37.9 percent of his three-pointers this season overall, but has struggled in Tech’s conference losses (2-for-17). He has five double-figure games off the bench this season. Dickey, who has shot 62.3 percent from the floor to lead the team this season, has entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center behind Luke Schenscher and is 18-for-28 from the floor (64.3 pct.) in ACC games.
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 has given Tech a big lift off the bench offensively in the last three games, averaging 7.3 points (9-15 FG) and 4.7 rebounds.
Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., has given Tech some quality minutes off the bench in the backcourt, while Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), a 6-9 junior, gives Tech more depth in the post positions.
Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 points in Tech’s first two games, suffered a dislocation of his right kneecap late in the Arkansas-Little Rock game on Nov. 26 and has not yet returned to action.
QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt
Update on B.J. Elder’s status – “He’s trying to come back tomorrow, but I’m not sure. He worked out yesterday. He’s getting there, but he’s not in shape. Again, one of the things you worry about with this particular injury is aggravating it. If he doesn’t play tomorrow, I feel pretty certain he’ll play on Sunday (against NC State). He’s going to try and go tomorrow, probably a game-time decision. He’s going to give us whatever he has, but he wouldn’t play much. Mentally, it would probably help us a little bit.”
On confidence in team’s ability to play well – “I have the same confidence in this team. There are still some things we have to do better. This team is very capable of being one of the best teams in the country, no question about it. We just have to become more consistent with, whether it’s our rebounding effort some days, or contesting shots other days.
“Offensively, it’s gotten to the point where we’ve worked out the kinks, and we’re moving the ball better. If you look at the games we’ve lost since the B.J. Elder injury, it’s come down to us passing the basketball. When we’ve scored points, we’ve passed it well.
“The other day, I thought we passed it well, but we just didn’t do a good enough job rebounding. We’ve got to play stronger around the basket and get to the foul line.”
How much of those things depend on Elder returning? – “I don’t think it depends on Elder coming back. B.J. can definitely help. I’ve said throughout this stretch that we have the personnel. But we’re maybe trying to do too much to make up for that loss could be part of the problem, or me not doing a good enough job of getting them to understand that we don’t need just one guy to fill that void. It’s got to be a team thing. This team is very, very capable. Don’t be surprised if things come together, that we can rip off a few in a row. But we have to start with getting the game at Clemson tomorrow. Oliver has that team playing very well.”
More on Tech’s level of play – “All ACC season, I think we’ve played a little immaturely. By that I mean taking some chances, and not being as patient as we need to be offensively. We’ve had some drop-off defensively because of that. The one thing I’ll say about this team is that they have practiced extremely well all season. I tell the players all the time, I would like you to show everybody, when the lights go on and we start playing games, how you guys practice and how efficient you are. If we can overcome that, I think we’ll have a very good basketball team here.”
What kind of road team do you think you have? – “Well, not a successful one right now. Again, obviously, it’s harder to win on the road anywhere in college basketball. But some of our lack of success is due, really, to our own failings. I respect all the competition. We’ve played some very good teams on the road. But that’s not to say we couldn’t have come away with one or two wins. But those are over, and we’ve got to look forward to Tuesday night. Let’s take advantage of it.”
SERIES NOTES VS. CLEMSON
Overall, Tech holds a 53-50 lead in a series that began in 1913. It is the oldest and longest-running series the Yellow Jackets have with an ACC member. The 103 all-time meetings are 28 more than Tech has played with any other ACC member.
> Tech has won three straight games and seven of the last nine in the series. But the Yellow Jackets trail 27-25 since joining the ACC. The home team has won 28 of the last 35 regular-season meetings.
> Last season: Tech won both games, defeating the Tigers, 76-69, on Jan. 27 in Atlanta, then taking a 79-60 win at Clemson on Feb. 28. B.J. Elder scored a career-high 36 points in the first meeting and 17 in the second.
> Tech and Clemson have split their season series 14 times in the last 17 years. The Jackets swept the season series from the Tigers in 2000-01 and in 2003-04. Clemson earned a sweep in the 1996-97 season.
> The Yellow Jackets have won six of the eight games between the two teams since Paul Hewitt became Tech’s head coach, with a 3-1 record each at home and at Clemson. Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell is 0-2 vs. Tech.
> Tech is just 14-32 all-time in games played at Clemson, including a 7-25 mark in Littlejohn Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets have won three of the last four games at Littlejohn, but lost seven in a row at Clemson prior to that.
> Tech’s 111-108 win against the Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 24, 2001 is tied for the highest scoring game Tech has had with any ACC opponent. The Jackets defeated Florida State by the same score in Tallahassee (in two OTs) on Feb. 11, 1999.
PICKING UP THE SCORING LOAD
Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum have increased their scoring load for the Yellow Jackets in the absence of B.J. Elder. In Tech’s last nine games, including the Kansas game in which Elder sustained his hamstring injury, Jack has averaged 17.2 points a game and Bynum 14.7. Even Isma’il Muhammad has chipped in with five double figure games in the last seven.
That trio has accounted for 54.3 percent of the Yellow Jackets field goal attempts, 57.2 percent of the points and 64.0 percent of the free throw attempts. They have combined to go to the free throw line 15.1 times a game.
Jack has shot 46.8 percent from the floor, 43.6 percent from three-point range and 89.5 percent from the free throw line in 57 attempts over that stretch. He scored a season-high 26 in that Kansas game, making 10 of 12 shots from the floor, added 22 against Virginia (5-7 from three), 24 at North Carolina (10-of-10 from the foul line) and 23 against Wake Forest (7-11 FG, 8-10 FT).
While he has not shot the ball for a high percentage over the 10 games, Bynum really stepped up against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State, scoring 28 against the Hokies and a career-high 30 against the Demon Deacons. He scored 19 against the Seminoles, including the game-winning three-point basket with 2.7 seconds left.
Muhammad has averaged 12.4 points over Tech’s last seven games, including a season-high 17 against Wake Forest and 15 at Maryland, and has made 50.7 percent of his shots over that stretch.
As a team, Tech has averaged 74.8 points in Elder’s absence, shot 43.6 percent from the floor and 31.1 percent from three-point range. Those numbers include the Wake Forest game, in which Tech established season bests in scoring (102 points), field goal percentage (54.4 pct.), three-point percentage (42.9 pct.) and free throw shooting (81.6 pct., 38 attempts).
Mario West has earned his minutes on the court with defense over his two seasons in a Georgia Tech uniform, but the 6-4 red-shirt sophomore is finding his way on the offensive end of late, particularly in the last two games by attacking the basket when the opportunity has presented itself. After going scoreless in seven of Tech’s first 11 games this season, West has scored in each of the last eight games, and established career bests three times.
Tech might not have beaten Florida State without the Douglasville, Ga., native, who scored 10 points in a variety of ways (4-7 FG), grabbed five rebounds and dealt two assists. West scored eight points (3-4 FG) at Maryland, and also scored seven in Tech’s Jan. 8 win over Virginia.
In the last three games alone (including 4 pts., 6 reb at Duke), West has averaged 7.3 points (9-15 FG) and 4.7 rebounds.