Georgia Tech used to close games
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS – Blame it on the Atla ntic Coast Conference.
Georgia Tech players and coach Paul Hewitt believe that’s why the team has been successful in close games this season, especially in the last several weeks.
In the last eight games, including Friday’s 72-67 win over Nevada, the Yellowjackets are 7-1. The seven victories have been decided by 25 points.
“When you play in the ACC, everyone has a lot of confidence that you can play anywhere and against everybody and be successful,” said senior Marvin Lewis, who scored 23 in Geor gia Tech’s win over Nevada. “Everybody one through nine (in the conference) feels that they can win the game on their home court.”
“We had a string of games where we weren’t as sure and confident at the end of games,” the fourth-year Georgia Tech coach said. “We lost two at home to Wake Forest and North Carolina State because we let poor offense effect our defense and intensity. We learned a big lesson that no matter what, we can still win if we put the clamps on at the defensive end of the floor.”
Indeed. Tech was first in ACC field goal percentage defense. Teams shot just 40.8 against Georgia Tech this season.
ALMOST LOST HIM: When Hewitt took the helm from Bobby Cremins four years ago, he had a couple of players that changed their mind about joining the program, and he almost lost Lewis, his outstanding senior guard.
Lewis’ parents, who liked Cremins, met with Hewitt before deciding whether to come to Atlanta. Lewis wasn’t there because he was playing in an all-star game.
“I think the meeting was at a hotel, not a diner,” Lewis said. “The whole attitude was to see what Coach Hewitt was all about. I knew Georgia Tech was still a place that I still wanted to go. I think they just wanted to understand where he was coming from. Georgia Tech was a good environment for me.”
It’s obviously been a good marriage, as Lewis is currently No. 18 on Tech’s all-time scoring list and his 127 games is tied for second-most in Tech history with Duane Ferrell, Craig Neal and Brian Oliver. Lewis has s tarted 119 of the 127 games.
TOUGH ROAD: Kansas was coming off an NCAA championship last season and a second-place finish the year before when Roy Williams decided to take the head job at North Carolina.
It wasn’t an easy situation for coach Bill Self, who had plenty of success at Ilinois and Tulsa. Success in college basketball is all about players buying into a new coach’s philosophy, and the KU players admitted they were a tad reluctant to do that.
“When coach Self came in we knew things would b e different,” said guard Keith Langford. “We all said we bought in to what he was saying, but you could tell in our play that wasn’t the case. We had a couple of bad losses to Richmond and Nebraska and you could tell this wasn’t the same team.”
After that 74-55 loss to Nebraska, the Jayhawks won eight of their last 10 games and the players seemed to have developed trust for Self and his staff.
Still, the players admit that Williams’ departure was a shock.
“Once the emotions settled down, I realized it was more of a business,” power forward Wayne Simien said. “He had to make the decision best for him. There was a great group of guys to stay and play with.”
Self knew that he would be compared to Williams.
“When you leave Illinois to follow a guy who won 80 percent of his games, there’s a good chance you’re going to disappoint some people. That’s expected. When we beat Michigan State early, it was like fool’s gold. Everybody got a sense that everything was OK. I knew in my heart that this was not a good practice team, and that we would dip a little. After Christmas, we became a much better practice team and strides were made.”
ALWAYS LEARNING: Self said he has learned a lot since taking Tulsa to an Elite Eight appearances in 2000.
“I think I personally handled the team better than I did the first time,” he said at Saturday’s news conference. “The players make the difference. I think they’re grounded enough to not spend too much energy on stuff that doesn’t matter. There are a lot of distractions you have to deal with when you go to the tournament.
“I’m certainly hopeful the outcome is better than the first two times (Tulsa and Illinois).”