- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

ST. LOUIS — Georgia Tech was an underdog, was playing what amounted to a road game in front of a loud, hostile crowd and was missing, for the most part, one of its best players.

Perfect. The Yellow Jackets had the Kansas Jayhawks just where they wanted them.

And after its 79-71 overtime victory yesterday, Georgia Tech was where it wanted to be — headed to San Antonio and its first Final Four since 1990.

The Yellow Jackets (27-9), who play Oklahoma State in the national semifinals Saturday, like it when you doubt them. Pick them fifth in the ACC after losing center Chris Bosh to the NBA? They will finish tied for third. Wonder about their chances in the NCAA tournament and they will win three close games. Match them up in the regional final against a hot Kansas team supported by an Edward Jones Dome full of its blue-clad fans and they will turn screams into silence. It’s a long drive home across the state of Missouri.

But the biggest challenge, perhaps, was playing without junior guard B.J. Elder, who sprained his right ankle in Friday’s semifinal victory over Nevada. Elder, Georgia Tech’s leading scorer at 15.8 points a game, tried to give it a go against Kansas. Former Georgia Tech star Dennis Scott even called Elder before the game and gave him a pep talk, imploring him to play through the pain.

“He said, ‘Whatever you do, you gotta play today,’” Elder said.

Elder complied. He played 12 minutes and did not score. Probably because he could barely move.

“I knew I couldn’t do what I was capable of,” he said. “I just tried to do what I could.”

Oh well, time for a new hero. On Friday, it was senior Marvin Lewis, who had 23 points to pick up the slack.

“On any given night we’ve got a number of guys who can step up and put up big numbers for us,” Elder said. “Tonight it happened to be Jarrett.”

That would be junior point guard Jarrett Jack, whose game was so complete, whose presence was so much greater than anyone else’s on the court that Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt saw fit to place him in the same lofty company as Mark Price, Kenny Anderson and other notable point guards who played for the school.

“In the end, we had Jarrett Jack,” Hewitt said. “And they didn’t.”

Jack, from Fort Washington, made eight of 12 shots from the field and 12 of 14 from the foul line. He scored 29 points. He also had nine rebounds, six assists and four steals and keyed a defensive effort that helped limit the Jayhawks (24-9) to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half, 40 percent for the game.

Offensively, Jack, the most outstanding player of the St. Louis regional, did most of his damage pushing the ball upcourt. Listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, he plays stronger than that, and he got some points or drew fouls by working inside.

“He got off to a great start because of their ability to push it and our inability to get back,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, who took his third different team to the Elite Eight but has yet to go further.

Said Jack: “With B.J. being out, we all knew we had to step up our game another notch. I just took it upon myself to get in the lane, create opportunities for myself as well as everybody else and really got it going. I kept attacking till the game was over.”

With Kansas missing 15 of its first 17 shots, Georgia Tech led the entire first half, mainly by making 15 of 18 free throws and controlling forward Wayne Simien, who scored 30 points in the Jayhawks’ win over Alabama-Birmingham on Friday. The Yellow Jackets collapsed on Simien whenever he touched the ball, and when he kicked it out, his teammates were cold. Simien and guard Keith Langford, the top two Kansas scorers, shot a combined 0-for-10 in the first half.

Georgia Tech led by five at the break and extended the lead to seven before Kansas and Simien started connecting and went on a 10-2 run. Kansas’ 43-42 lead with 13:04 to go was its first of the game. The noise grew, and so did the tension.

The Yellow Jackets went back up by seven with 3:55 to go, but the lead quickly fell apart, and J.R. Giddens’ 3-pointer tied the game at 66-66 with 16.2 seconds left. Georgia Tech played for the last shot, but Lewis drove and missed, and Will Bynum missed on the follow shot.

After Kansas took a 68-66 lead, the rest of overtime belonged to Georgia Tech. As in Friday’s win, Bynum, a 6-foot junior, again hit what proved to be the winner. In that game it was a reverse layup worthy of any TV highlight. This time it was a 3-pointer with 1:50 left and the game tied at 71-71. Georgia Tech never trailed after that.

“He has as much courage, offensively, as anybody on the team,” Hewitt said. “When he took that shot from the top of the key, there was no flinching. I knew he wasn’t gonna miss it short, let’s put it that way. If he was gonna miss it, he was gonna miss it with a lot of gusto. He wasn’t just gonna throw it up there and pray. He knew exactly what he was doing.”

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