March 1, 2005
Georgia Tech plays its final road game of the regular season Wednesday night when it meets No. 6 Wake Forest at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem. The Yellow Jackets have won their last three road games, and defeated the Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem last year. Tech closes its regular-season campaign with a home game Saturday against Clemson.
Wednesday’s game will be nationally televised on ESPN. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, and can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790) and WREK-FM (91.1). XM Satellite Radio also has the game on Ch. 191.
The Yellow Jackets (16-9, 7-7 ACC) again drew even in conference play Saturday with a 76-72 win at Miami on Saturday, Tech’s third consecutive road win in February. Tech, 3-4 on the road in the ACC, still has not been able to put together two straight wins since opening the ACC slate with victories over Miami and Virginia in early January, and the Jackets have alternated wins and losses since their 102-101 triumph over Wake Forest on Jan. 27.
Last weekend’s results left the Yellow Jackets in a tie for fourth place in the conference standings with Virginia Tech, a half-game ahead of Maryland and Miami, who at 7-8 have one game apiece left, and a full-game ahead of eighth-place NC State (6-8).
Wake Forest (24-4, 11-3 ACC), is in second place in the conference standings and has won eight of nine games since visiting Atlanta on Jan. 27. The lone loss came at Duke on Feb. 20, and the Demon Deacons downed Virginia, 90-68, in their last game Sunday.
Tech has played several close games since Jan. 1, beginning with a two-point overtime loss at Kansas. The Jackets’ last five ACC wins have been achieved by a total of 17 points, four of those on the game’s final possession. Seven of Tech’s last 10 games have been decided by four points or fewer, all on the game’s final possession. Two others in that stretch have been decided by less than 10 points.
Tech remains the ACC leader in scoring defense (65.5 ppg), field goal percentage defense (38.3 pct.) and three-point defense (30.7 pct.), and also rates fourth, second and fourth in the league in those categories for ACC games only.
Tech continues to be inconsistent offensively, however, scoring more than 76 points only once in its last 12 games (Wake Forest on Jan. 27 is the exception). The Yellow Jackets have, however, scored 76 points in each of their last two road games (both wins), and have exceeded 40 points in a half three times in the last five games.
The Yellow Jackets, who have had all 14 of their players dressed and available for only seven games all season, welcomed back senior guard B.J. Elder (missed the first nine ACC games with a left hamstring strain) and freshman forward Jeremis Smith (missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap) on Feb. 8 at Clemson. Elder has averaged 11.6 points in his four games back on the court, while Smith has averaged 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds off the bench.
B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.) returned to the starting lineup for Tech’s last three games. He responded by scoring 16 of Tech’s first 30 points (including four threes), and finished with a game-high 22 at FSU, including the game-winning free throws with 0.4 seconds showing on the clock. Elder, who replaced Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.) in the starting five, has averaged 11.6 points in five games since returning to the court at Clemson on Feb. 8. The 6-4 senior is averaging 12.7 for the season, shooting 40.8 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from the three-point line.
He is joined in the starting lineup by 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), one of the nation’s best point guards. A mid-season candidate for the Naismith Trophy and the Bob Cousy Award, Jack ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring (15.5 ppg), fifth in assists (4.52 per game), sixth in field goal percentage (51.2), third in three-point percentage (41.7) and third in free throw percentage (88.3). He scored 21 points to lead Tech to victory at Miami, and has averaged 17.0 points over his last five games.
The rest of the starting five includes three other seniors in 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.0 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds per game; and 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Schenscher, who ranks seventh in the ACC in rebounding and third in blocked shots (2.00 per game), has averaged 10.9 points over his last eight games, including six double-figure efforts. Bynum, a 6-0 junior from Chicago, Ill., who started every ACC game before FSU, has been a key contributor in each of Tech’s last three road wins.
Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, who had missed 17 games with a dislocated kneecap, has averaged 3.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in five games since his return on Feb. 8. He lifted Tech with six points and three boards at Florida State, and has led Tech in rebounding in each of its last two games against Duke (6) and Miami (8).
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., has averaged almost 12 minutes a game in ACC games, mostly on his defensive prowess, but gave Tech a lift off the bench offensively in games against Maryland, Florida State (career-high 10 points) and Duke.
Tech’s other freshmen, 6-9 center Ra’Sean Dickey (Clio, S.C.) and 6-5 wingman Anthony Morrow (Charlotte, N.C.) have taken on more importance since mid-December. Each scored 12 points in Tech’s win at Miami. Morrow has made 38.5 percent of his three-pointers this season overall and has six double-figure games off the bench. Dickey, who has shot 62.9 percent from the floor to lead the team (64.9 pct. in ACC games), entrenched himself as Tech’s No. 2 center.
QUOTING COACH HEWITT
On Tech’s game at Wake Forest – “It’s going to be a tough, physical basketball game. That’s the way it was here about a month ago, and I don’t expect this to be any different.”
On defending Chris Paul – “A lot of luck goes into it. We have a couple of guys that have size and a long wingspan and can move their feet. Chris Paul is a great player, one of the premier players in the country, and when you can hold him down, you have to have some luck on your side.”
More on B.J. Elder’s return – “I think our roles are starting to fall back to where they were at the beginning of the year. I thought in the Miami game we saw some glimpses of the type of team we anticipated having this year. We’ve got to go out and do that many more times and prove to ourselves that we are a good basketball team.”
On Tech’s win at Miami – “We got some outstanding contributions from our young guys on Saturday at Miami. And of course Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum played extremely well for us down the stretch. I think our team is getting better, I say that all the time. I saw the type of team that I think we’re capable of on the floor each game, and I hope we come back and play with some consistency against Wake on Wednesday.”
Is this the week you have to put it together to get a bid? – “Obviously if we win the game on Wednesday at Wake Forest, anytime you win games, now here we are in March, it means something. I really can’t say.”
Are there teams you favor in the NCAA Tournament? – “You’ve got to look to the how they are right now. Carolina, Illinois, Forest and Duke are playing outstanding basketball right now. But I’ve been so wrapped up in our season and our team, that I really haven’t had the chance to catch them, except for seeing Illinois. They pass the ball and shoot it very, very well. And the other three teams I mentioned we’ve already played. All three of them can score, all three of them can guard very well.”
On Tech’s recent success on the road after four straight losses – “We’ve been pretty solid on the road, and I think that’s because of B.J.’s return and Jeremis’ return. Both of them know how to take care of the ball, and they’re both very good passers. B.J. also is an excellent shooter from outside. I think it takes some pressure off of our other guys. Jarrett, Will and Isma’il, they don’t feel like they have to create or manufacture shots. With that I feel good about our chances. We’ve won three on the road, we’re fighting against a great Wake Forest team. I realize it’s senior night for them, so it’s going to be a highly emotional game for them, but it’s also a very important game for us.
SERIES NOTES WITH WAKE FOREST
Wake Forest leads the overall series with Georgia Tech, 30-27, having won four of the last six meetings and nine of the last 13. Of the four Tech victories, three have occurred at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
> Earlier this season: Will Bynum scored a career-high 30 points, and Jarrett Jack added 23 as Georgia Tech outlasted Wake Forest, 102-101, in overtime on Jan. 27 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Jack’s two free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining provided the winning margin after Tech had led by as many as 14 points in the second half. Tech shot 54.4 percent from the floor. Wake was led by Eric Williams with 27 points and 12 rebounds, and Justin Gray scored 22
>The home team has won 18 of the last 25 regular-season games in the series, with Wake Forest winning four times at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in that span, and Tech winning three times in Winston-Salem.
> Tech is 24-19 against Wake Forest since 1985, including 12 straight victories from 1985-91.
> Tech is 4-6 against Wake Forest under head coach Paul Hewitt. The Jackets are 3-5 against Skip Prosser-coached Wake Forest teams.
> Tech is 11-8 vs. Wake Forest when the Yellow Jackets are in the Top 25, and 3-5 when both teams are ranked. This is the highest-ranked Wake team Tech has faced since the 1996-97 season.
> Tech had lost five straight games to Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Coliseum before its win on Jan. 20 of last season, and is just 4-11 in the building. Tech is 8-18 against Wake Forest on the road, including a 2-3 mark in regular-season games played in Greensboro and a 2-4 mark in games played in Winston-Salem prior to the opening of Joel Coliseum.
WALKING A TIGHTROPE
Seven of Tech’s last 10 games have been decided by four points or less, and Tech is 4-3 in those games. The Yellow Jackets have not won a game by more than eight points since Virginia on Jan. 8.
Tech has lost three conference games at home this season (Virginia Tech, NC State, Duke) by a total of seven points. By the same token, Tech has achieved its last five ACC wins (Wake Forest at home, FSU home and away, Clemson on the road, Miami on the road) by a total of 17 points. All of those games have gone down to the final possession.
Tech has won many of its games this season by coming out aggressively and taking the lead early. Tech has followed that pattern for the most part in all of its ACC victories, taking large leads early, then either winning big (home wins over Miami and Virginia), or watching those leads disappear and then pulling it out at the end (Wake Forest, Florida State twice).
Clemson and Miami are the only games in which Tech has overcome significant deficits to win. The Yellow Jackets trailed at the half by eight at Clemson, then at Miami trailed by 10 in the first half and 11 in the second half.
> Trailing 59-51 at the 8-minute mark at Miami Saturday, Tech scored the next 12 points and never trailed again, then sealed the win by making 10 of 11 free throws in the final 2 1/2 minutes.
> The Yellow Jackets led 71-59 with 7:09 remaining at Florida State, but watched the entire lead disappear as Al Thornton’s jumper over Luke Schenscher dropped in for a 75-74 Seminole lead with 9.7 seconds left. On Tech’s last possesson, B.J. Elder wound up with the ball after Jarrett Jack almost lost it out of bounds, was fouled with 0.4 seconds left and made both free throws for the 76-75 victory.
> Against Wake Forest, Tech led by as many as 17 in the first half and 14 in the second half, lost the entire lead by the final minute and survived a layup attempt by Chris Paul at the end of regulation to force overtime. In OT, Jack was fouled with four seconds on the clock, and made both free throws to give Tech a 102-101 lead. Paul’s last shot missed.
> In Tech’s first meeting with Florida State, Tech outscored the Seminoles 27-9 over the first 10 minutes of the second half in building a 12-point lead. FSU pulled even at 61-all in the final minute, but Will Bynum sank a three-pointer with 2.7 seconds left for the 64-61 victory.
> Even against Miami in its conference opener, Tech saw a 46-32 halftime lead evaporate to one in the second half, but responded with its own run and won 80-69.
TECH MARCHING ON
February and March traditionally have been good months for Tech under Paul Hewitt, with the Jackets posting a 30-22 record in those two months combined prior to this season. Tech just completed a winning month of February (4-3), and have posted a 14-7 mark in the month of March during Hewitt’s tenure at Tech.
It is also pertinent to note that the Jackets were 6-7 in the ACC last year at the same point in the schedule (following a pair of home losses) before going on its late-season run with road wins at Clemson and No. 3 Duke and a home win against Florida State. This year, Tech was 6-7 after a home loss to Duke, then won at Miami Saturday with a road game at No. 4 Wake Forest coming up. The Jackets close their regular season at home against Clemson.
OFFENSE BETTER ON THE ROAD LATELY
Georgia Tech has had its difficulties on offense since its 2-0 start in conference play, averaging 69.8 points over 12 games. Take out the 102-101 win over Wake Forest, and the average is 66.8.
One of the oddities of the recent games, however, is that Tech has produced its poorest offensive games at home in losses to NC State (53-51) and Duke (60-56), while posting three of its better games on the road in victories over Clemson (70-62), Florida State (76-75) and Miami (76-72).
Tech shot 48.4 percent, 37.9 percent from three-point range, in the three road wins, while also making 71.9 percent of its free throws. In the two home games, the Yellow Jackets shot just 40.8 percent overall, and were 1-for-19 from behind the arc.
One common element over the five-game stretch is that Tech has not taken as many shots (51.4 field goal attempts per game, 15.4 three-point attempts per game) and turned the ball over too much (17.8 per game).
JACK, SCHENSCHER CONSTANTS IN RECENT GAMES
Jarrett Jack and Luke Schenscher have been the most consistent players for Georgia Tech offensively over the last several games, even as the Yellow Jackets have struggled to maintain consistency as a whole.
Jack has averaged 17.0 points over his last six games, all double-figure efforts, beginning with the first Duke game on Feb. 5. He scored 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting in the last meeting with Duke, and 21 Saturday at Miami. He is shooting 51.4 percent (36-for-70) from the floor during the period and is 24-for-27 from the foul line.
Schenscher has drawn plenty of attention from opposing defenses, but he has quietly begun to overcome the extra burden. The 7-1 senior has averaged 10.9 points over his last eight games, reaching double figures in scoring six times and posting a pair of double-doubles. He has made 37 of 71 shots (52.1 pct.) from the floor in that stretch. Since B.J. Elder returned, he has made 56.7 percent of his field goals and had eight assists in five games.
Defensively, he has done excellent work against the opposing centers for the most part. Only Shelden Williams of Duke had a good statistical game against Schenscher, with 15 points and 12 boards in the first meeting and 12 and 10 in the second. The other six combined for 22 points (9-for-23 FG) and 19 rebounds.
ROOKIES COME UP BIG AT MIAMI
Were it not for the performance of Georgia Tech’s freshmen Saturday at Miami, the Yellow Jackets probably would not have secured its most important victory of the season. The trio of Ra’Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith combined to score 26 points and grab 18 rebounds in the game, each producing big plays in their most important minutes of the season.
Tech’s 33 points from the bench were its most since Jan. 8 against Virginia.
Dickey posted his first double-figure game since Jan. 8, scoring 12 points with a season-high six rebounds. He was 3-for-3 from the floor and 6-for-7 from the foul line in 17 minutes, and three of his rebounds came on the offensive end.
Morrow scored 12 points, his first double-figure game since Jan. 27 against Wake Forest, all on three-point field goals in the first half as Tech erased a 10-point deficit. He also took four rebounds and had an assist in 18 minutes.
Jeremis Smith, steadily becoming the force on the boards and on the defensive end that the coaches expected of him, grabbed a season-high eight rebounds, five on the offensive end. His lone basket on an offensive board capped a 12-0 run that took Tech from a 59-51 deficit to a 63-59 lead, and his team never trailed after that.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL …
He made his reputation as a clutch performer in last year’s NCAA Tournament, with big baskets that put Georgia Tech ahead for good in the final minute of tournament wins over Nevada, Kansas and Oklahoma State. Will Bynum did it again in Tech’s 64-61 victory over Florida State on Feb. 2, taking a pass from Jarrett Jack off a double screen and knocking down a three-point field goal with 2.7 seconds left to lift the Yellow Jackets past the Seminoles, 64-61.
The 6-0 senior scored 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, helping Tech open a 12-point lead and then grabbing the victory after the lead was lost. Bynum made 6 of 10 shots (2-of-3 on threes) in the second half of the game.
He has been clutch on all three of Tech’s recent road wins, beginning with his 13-point effort at Clemson in which he made 5-of-7 from the floor. He didn’t score a basket Saturday at Miami, but he went 7-for-7 from the foul line in the final 2 1/2 minutes to help out the Hurricanes away. With the score tied at 63, he drained three free throws after he was fouled on a three-point attempt, then made four more in the final minute.
It was his second-half exploits as well that enabled Tech to defeat No. 5 Wake Forest on Jan. 27. While Jarrett Jack scored 23 points and provided the final 102-101 winning margin with a pair of free throws with 4.4 seconds left in overtime, Bynum scored 18 of his 30 points after intermission, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line.