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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Georgia Tech Ends Nevada's Dream Run

Yellow Jackets get help from defense and reserves in a 72-67 victory that ends nine-game winning streak for Wolf Pack.

March 27, 2004|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — Georgia Tech found strength in numbers Friday night, even those in the minus column.

Confronted with the difficult task of playing most of the game without leading scorer B.J. Elder, the Yellow Jackets closed ranks and rallied in the final minutes for a 72-67 victory over Nevada in a St. Louis Regional semifinal in front of 30,801 people at the Edward Jones Dome.

Georgia Tech (26-9) reached the NCAA tournament Elite Eight for the third time, and the first time since 1990, with the help of a remarkable defensive performance in the second half, when it limited Nevada to seven-of-33 shooting (21.2%) from the field.

The third-seeded Yellow Jackets will play fourth-seeded Kansas in the regional final at 11:40 a.m. PST on Sunday.

"We scrapped and dug and played great defense," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "I never sensed at any time that [the players] were panicking because B.J. wasn't coming back."

Elder, a junior guard who came into Friday's game averaging 16.2 points, did not score and played only three minutes after spraining his right ankle in the first two minutes of the game.

He sat out the entire second half, when Georgia Tech rallied from a five-point halftime deficit. His status for Sunday's game is uncertain, Hewitt said.

Several Yellow Jackets stepped up in Elder's absence.

Senior guard Marvin Lewis took on a greater scoring role and finished with a game-high 23 points. He made successive three-point shots to erase Nevada's last lead of the game and give Georgia Tech a 63-58 lead with 5:19 to play.

"Guys were looking for me and I just happened to knock down shots," Lewis said. "I wasn't necessarily trying to take over. I was just trying to take advantage of the opportunity."

Reserve guard Will Bynum also came up big. He scored nine points and gave the Yellow Jackets the lead for good, 69-67, by driving the baseline for a reverse layup with 1:06 left.

"Everybody just said, 'We have to pick up our game,' because we had to do without [Elder]," Lewis said. "When B.J. went down, everybody tried to step up and be a leader."

Nevada (25-9) failed to score again after guard Kirk Snyder made a driving shot from close range to tie the score, 67-67, with 2:07 left.

Snyder had largely kept the Wolf Pack in the game up to that point, scoring his team's final 11 points and finishing with 21.

After Bynum gave Georgia Tech the lead, Nevada guard Garry Thomas-Hill missed an inside shot. Lewis got the rebound and was fouled, making one of two free throws for a 70-67 Yellow Jacket lead with 48.9 seconds left.

Nevada missed three more shots, two by point guard Todd Okeson and one by Snyder, in the final seconds and Georgia Tech forward Clarence Moore made two of four free throws in the final 24.1 to put it away.

With that, the Wolf Pack was sent packing after an unprecedented season in which it posted the program's first NCAA tournament victory and tied a school record for most victories. The loss ended a nine-game winning streak.

"We had a good run," said Okeson, who made only five of 19 shots, including two of 10 from three-point range. "It's bad when you lose your last game, but then a lot of teams lose their last game."

Once again, defense was a key for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets came into the game forcing nearly 20 turnovers a game and limiting opponents to less than 40% shooting. Nevada shot 31.9% for the game.

Okeson, however, said Georgia Tech didn't do anything special to keep Nevada from making field goals during long stretches of the second half.

"I just think we were rushing a little and it looked like we were pressing at the end when we didn't need to be," Okeson said.

And that's how the west was done. The 10th-seeded Wolf Pack was the last team remaining in the tournament from west of the Rocky Mountains.

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