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NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

ACC Aces Its Finals

Georgia Tech rides a crackling Jack performance to a 79-71 overtime victory over Kansas in St. Louis.

March 29, 2004|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — It was the ultimate test of NCAA tournament survival.

Georgia Tech played the St. Louis Regional final Sunday without getting a point from its leading scorer, with only one point from its senior leader and third-leading scorer, and with little support from a heavily pro-Kansas crowd that cheered wildly for every Jayhawk run.

Yet the Yellow Jackets found a way to win, pulling away in overtime for a 79-71 victory thanks to another gritty defensive effort and a career performance from point guard Jarrett Jack.

"I can't really say enough about how they competed," an injured B.J. Elder said of his teammates. "They were amazing."

None more so than Jack, who scored a career-high 29 points to go with nine rebounds, six assists and four steals. He seemed to make all the big plays down the stretch, scoring eight of his team's 11 points in overtime and getting an assist on the go-ahead basket.

"Today [was] Jarrett Jack's day," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said.

After helping secure Georgia Tech's second Final Four berth, and first since 1990, Jack dribbled out the clock and threw the ball into a small contingent of Yellow Jacket fans among the 30,648 in the Edward Jones Dome.

Georgia Tech (27-9) will play Oklahoma State on Saturday in the Final Four in San Antonio.

Jack's all-around effort couldn't have come at a better time for the Yellow Jackets.

Elder, the team's leading scorer, played sparingly and did not score for the second consecutive game after being hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered Friday against Nevada.

And senior guard Marvin Lewis, who had stepped up in Elder's absence to score 23 points against Nevada, missed all six of his field-goal attempts and finished with one point on a free throw in overtime.

"That's what makes us a special team," reserve guard Will Bynum said. "When something bad happens, it seems like every time someone steps up. Tonight it was Jarrett."

Jack, who was named the regional's most outstanding player, said it was a relief to finally have a big game after battling foul trouble and poor shooting in the first three NCAA tournament games. He made eight of 12 shots and 13 of 14 free throws Sunday.

"I've been struggling with my offense through this whole tournament," Jack said.

"Once I got it going early, I really got my confidence. I thought I could get to the [basket] whenever I wanted to. I just tried to create shots for myself, as well as [for] my teammates."

With the score tied, 71-71, Jack passed to Bynum at the top of the key, and the transfer from Arizona made a three-point shot to put Georgia Tech ahead for good with 1:50 left in overtime.

Kansas (24-9) had no answer for Jack's dribble penetration with the game on the line. He created shots inside and drew fouls, making all six of his free throws in overtime.

"We couldn't keep Jack out of the lane," Kansas Coach Bill Self said. "[That] was our biggest problem."

Georgia Tech also had other stars. Reserve forward Clarence Moore matched a season high with 14 points and picked the Jayhawks' pockets for five steals, and center Luke Schenscher made all five of his shots and scored 15 points.

"Every night you never know who might step up," Jack said. "We're not that team with a superstar and everybody else just follows. Everybody contributes."

On defense, the Yellow Jackets harassed Kansas into 40% shooting. All-American forward Wayne Simien, who came into the game averaging 18 points, finished with 11 after making four of 14 shots.

"The looks I did get felt good," Simien said. "They just wouldn't drop for me."

The Jayhawks made only two of their first 18 shots as Georgia Tech opened an 11-6 lead.

From there, the teams traded runs as the game fell into a pattern: Kansas mounting rallies, only to have the Yellow Jackets answer.

The Jayhawks came back from an 11-point deficit in the first half to take their first lead, 43-42, with 13:04 left in regulation after successive baskets by Simien.

With the score tied, 58-58, Georgia Tech went on a 7-0 run capped by Anthony McHenry's put-back basket to take a 65-58 lead with 3:55 left.

Kansas then fought back behind guards Keith Langford and J.R. Giddens, who combined to score the Jayhawks' last 16 points in the final 6:44 of regulation.

Jack made one of two free throws for a 66-63 Georgia Tech lead with 39 seconds left, opening the door for Kansas. The Jayhawks rebounded a miss by Simien and got the ball to Giddens, whose three-point basket tied it with 16 seconds left.

The Yellow Jackets had a chance to win in regulation, but Lewis and Bynum each missed close-range shots before time expired.

Kansas scored the first points of overtime and took its final lead, 68-66, on two free throws by Langford. A minute later, however, Langford fouled out when he was cited for charging against Isma'il Muhammad.

Langford disputed the call, saying, "He stepped in and flopped."

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