Colonials relish underdog status against Jackets

NASHVILLE – Same bit, different day.

The GW men’s basketball team is playing a highly regarded opponent, and like usual, people aren’t giving the Foggy Bottom crew much of a chance.

To begin their quest to next week’s Albuquerque Regional and kick off their first NCAA Tournament trip since 1999, the No. 12 seeded Colonials (22-7) will take on No. 5 seed Georgia Tech (19-11) Friday night at approximately 9:40 p.m. Eastern time at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The victor will face the winner of Louisville and Louisiana-Lafayette (Friday, approx. 7:10 p.m.).

GW head coach Karl Hobbs and his players aren’t exactly doing the Rodney Dangerfield, New England Patriots “no respect” thing, but they don’t seem to mind their underdog status.

“I like the fact that there will be a great deal of pressure on Georgia Tech tomorrow because of all the expectations,” Hobbs said. “I really like the situation we are in.”

“I’m just still glad we’re still playing,” said a playful T.J. Thompson, who walked into the team’s brief shoot-around with his shorts jacked up to the middle of his chest. “I don’t care who we’re playing.”

The senior guard may be playing his final game in a GW uniform Friday night, but he said he isn’t interested in thinking about that quite yet.

The Georgia Tech players appeared as loose as Thompson. As star guard Jarrett Jack hopped up on the large podium in the interview room, he said, “Ooh, I feel like I’m performing in front of somebody.”

The Yellow Jackets were respectful of GW on the interview podium, acknowledging the Colonials’ success this year. For the first time in months, Georgia Tech will be playing outside the hotly contested Atlantic Coast Conference and it was unclear in the players’ comments whether they put the Colonials on the same level as one of their league challengers.

“I got to watch them play on a couple of occasions, being that I’m from that area,” said Jack, a Maryland native. “I’m kind of familiar with their personnel and how they play. I think everybody’s familiar with the stretch they went on to beat Maryland and then Michigan State. They’ve made a name for themselves gradually.”

Coach Paul Hewitt didn’t speak in specifics, but knows his team cannot afford a let down Friday night, regardless of its opponent. In 15 out of the past 16 NCAA Tournaments, a No. 12 seed has knocked off a No. 5 seed. Thursday, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee toppled favored Alabama.

“There are so many good teams out there now, seeds really don’t matter,” Hewitt said. “Unless you are playing well, especially playing defense and rebounding well, anybody can get knocked out of this thing.”

The Yellow Jackets had an up-and-down season in the powerful ACC, but are only one year removed from reaching the national championship game. They reached the finals of their league tournament last week, beating eventual No. 1 seed North Carolina before falling to Duke in the finals. Senior guards B.J. Elder and Will Bynum and Jack will be a handful for GW defenders, and 7-foot-1-inch, 250-pound center Luke Schenscher is the most physically imposing big man the Colonials have faced all season.

Like GW, the Ramblin’ Wreck is a running team, one that thrives on taking a lot of shots and scoring bunches of points. It will be interesting to see if the Jackets are a bit more deliberate Friday night, as dumping the ball in to Schenscher in the low post may be the best way to solve the Colonials’ lightning-strike attack.

Junior forward Pops Menash-Bonsu struggled against Wake Forest center Eric Williams when the Demon Deacons beat GW in the season opener in November, but dominated Michigan State’s Paul Davis in the Colonials’ upset win over the Spartans in December. When asked about GW’s arsenal, the Tech players repeatedly spoke of their opponent’s athleticism.

“Obviously we know they’re pretty athletic,” Schenscher said. “They’re not necessarily big – there are no seven-footers – but they get up there on the offensive boards and they’re pretty quick.”

Do not look for the Colonials to change their style to slow the Yellow Jackets’ pace. Hobbs’ squad has relished the chance to play fast-paced, aggressive basketball all year. To win the A-10 Championship last week, GW shot nearly 70 percent from the field and scored 54 points in the second half in a 76-67 win over St. Joseph’s in the finals Saturday night.

“We’re going to play our game,” Thompson said. “We’re not going to change anything we do … We’re not going to change it up.”

For sophomore guard J.R. Pinnock, this match-up hits close to home. He played high school ball outside of Atlanta but said he was not recruited by Georgia Tech. On selection Sunday, he said he’d like “to show (Georgia Tech) what they missed out on.”

Mensah-Bonsu sees the game on simpler terms.

“There is going to be two teams on the floor,” he said. “One team has to beat another team and we have to play our game.”

Game match-up preview
by Jake Sherman

Point Guard

Georgia Tech: Jarrett Jack, 6-feet-3-inches, 202 pounds, junior (15.9 points per game, 4.6 assists per game). Jack’s Achilles heel is his 3.6 turnovers per game, but is the team’s leader. He reportedly impressed Coach Mike Krzyzewski in the ACC championship game, where the Yellow Jackets fell to the Blue Devils.

GW: Carl Elliott, 6-feet-4-inches, 220 pounds, sophomore. Elliott averages slightly more than eight points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The guard is one of the best defenders in the Atlantic 10. He averaged 2.8 steals per game this year (11th in the nation). What could hurt Elliott in the tourney is his weak performance from the free throw line (57.4 percent).

Edge: Although both Elliott and Jack played under coach Mo Cassara’s tutelage at Worcester Academy, Jack will give Tech the edge. His court presence is unmatched and is part of a very solid backcourt that led the Ramblin’ Wreck to the national title game last season.

Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech: Will Bynum, 6-feet, 180 pounds, senior. Currently averages 12.5 points per game and 3.1 assists per game. Bynum is strong on defense, averaging a single steal per game but is weak from three point land (29.8 percent). B.J. Elder, 6-feet-4-inches, guard, 218 pounds, senior (13.4 points, 2.2 rebounds per game). Elder shoots 71 percent from the charity stripe but averages 1.5 turnovers per game.

GW: T.J. Thompson, 5-feet-11-inches, 180 pounds, senior (13.8 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game). Thompson seems to always come up with a three-pointer at the right time and has hit the most treys in GW history.

Edge: Thompson is a player who has never been in the tournament and is on an emotional high. But Elder and Bynum have experience in the Big Dance and combined, pack quite a scoring punch, giving Tech the edge.

Forwards

Georgia Tech: Anthony McHenry, 6-feet-7-inches, 222 pounds, senior (4.1 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game). McHenry is 70 percent from the foul line but is very weak from the three-point line (19.4 percent).

GW: Omar Williams, 6-feet-9-inches, 190 pounds, junior (9.8 points, 4.9 rebounds per game). Williams had the game of his career in the A-10 final against St. Joe’s, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 boards. Mike Hall, 6-feet-8-inches, 230 pounds, junior (10.5 points, 8 rebounds per game). Hall is a superb free throw shooter but at times can be sloppy with the ball. He seems to be a leader and has shown his versatility with his three-point shooting.

Edge: In this match-up, GW has the clear edge with two versatile forwards who can bring the ball up the floor in addition to wreaking havoc down low.

Center

Georgia Tech: Luke Schenscher, 7-feet-1-inch, 250 pounds, senior. Schenscher was integral in Tech’s final four run last year. This year, he averages 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He is very accurate from the floor, shooting 54.5 percent on the season but turns the ball over frequently.

GW: Pops Mensah-Bonsu: 6-feet-9-inches, 240 pounds, junior (12.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game).

Edge: Georgia Tech. Although Mensah-Bonsu will likely give the less athletic Schenscher trouble, he might not be able to contain the larger Aussie, who could give GW trouble in the paint.

Bench

Georgia Tech: Sixth man Isma’il Muhammad is an explosive player (9.8 points per game) but has been slowed down by injury recently. Anthony Morrow is a very dangerous three-point shooter and provides fresh legs for the Jackets.

GW: J.R. Pinnock was the A-10’s sixth man of the year. He averaged 13.5 points per game (second best avg. on team) and is a team leader. Freshman Maureece Rice has showed maturity this year, averaging just over three points per game. The Colonials will need all of their cogs to come in and contribute if they hope to stop Tech’s fast-paced offense.

Edge: Even.

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