- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

MILWAUKEE — Georgia Tech got as big a test as any it found in the ACC. From the most unlikely of schools, no less.

Luke Schenscher led four players in double figures, and the Yellow Jackets needed every one of them yesterday to hold off pesky Northern Iowa 65-60 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Schenscher finished with 13 points, B.J. Elder had 12 and Will Bynum added 11 for Georgia Tech, which has won eight of its last 12. The third-seeded Yellow Jackets will now play sixth-seeded Boston College in the second round of the St. Louis regional tomorrow. The Eagles beat Utah 58-51.

“I came out of that game very impressed with Northern Iowa,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “We put a run on them early. We played a very good schedule this year and we’ve played teams that have folded when you put that type of run on them. They came back strong.”

Making their second NCAA appearance, the Panthers (21-10) were smaller, slower, thinner and less athletic than Georgia Tech (24-9). The only place they had an advantage was in crowd support, with a large, loud contingent of Northern Iowa fans turning the entire Bradley Center into Panther territory.

But even after falling behind by 17 points in the first half, Northern Iowa gave Georgia Tech everything it could handle. The Panthers made a 27-9 run spanning halftime to turn what was a rout back into a game, and Erik Crawford’s 3-pointer with 21 seconds left cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 63-60.

Northern Iowa fouled, but Jarrett Jack missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Panthers got the ball back with 15 seconds to play.

“This is a team that snapped a 25-game win streak at Wake Forest. They snapped a 41-game win streak at Duke. I didn’t sense at all in the end that these guys were panicked,” Hewitt said. “When they came in the huddle, it was more, ‘Hey, give them credit. They’re doing a good job. They’re making some tough shots.’”

But Northern Iowa couldn’t make enough of them. With the shot clock ticking down and the crowd roaring in support, the Panthers looked for Ben Jacobson. Though Jacobson missed 12 of 14 shots — including three in a row during a scoreless 31/2-minute stretch late in the game — he’s still the team’s best 3-pointer shooter.

“Ben Jacobson is a great shooter,” said Matt Schneiderman, who had 15 points for Northern Iowa. “He’s the best 3-point shooter we have on this team, and I don’t think we’d want anyone else taking that shot but him.”

But Jacobson could only get off an off-balance 3 with Clarence Moore in his face, and the ball caromed off the rim with 3 seconds left.

“It was a pretty good look,” Jacobson said. “I let it fly and thought it was good, but it was a little too long.”

Jack got the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to clinch the victory with six-tenths of a second left.

Jacobson finished with nine points, the first time he’s finished with less than 10 points since Feb.7. David Gruber led the Panthers with 16 points.

“We just wanted to make everything tough for him,” Elder said of Jacobson. “We wanted to make him put the ball on the floor and not give him any clean looks at the basket. We did a good job on him.”

Of course, Georgia Tech has some experience with good players. The Yellow Jackets tied for third in the ACC, which set an NCAA tournament record with five teams seeded fourth or better. After playing the likes of Duke, Wake Forest, N.C. State and Maryland all year, nothing is going to faze them.

The Northern Iowa fans went crazy when the Panthers jumped to a 7-2 lead, hoping this was the start of another upset. Northern Iowa was also a No.14 seed in 1990, when the Panthers stunned third-seeded Missouri 74-71 in the first round.

But Moore made a 3-pointer to spark a 30-8 run that gave Georgia Tech a 32-15 lead with 4:32 left in the first half.

“Playing in the league we play in prepares you for moments like that when you know the house is against you,” Hewitt said. “As long as we defend and rebound, we’ll have a chance.”

The Panthers finally found their rhythm again at the end of the first half, with Schneiderman, Crawford and Jacobson all hitting 3s to pare Georgia Tech’s lead to 39-27 at the break.

When freshman Brooks McKowen hit a 3-pointer with 16:11 left to give Northern Iowa a 42-41 lead, its first since the early minutes of the game, the fans shook the building. But Elder and Bynum answered with quick baskets to start a 16-7 run, and Georgia Tech never trailed again.

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