LANDOVER -- The burden of giddy expectation leaned hard on Kenny Anderson's shoulders last night.
It leaned hard enough to turn his silky jump shot into a clanging cymbal, hard enough to render Georgia Tech's once-slick offense unrecognizable. It leaned hard enough to send the Yellow Jackets reeling to a 73-72 overtime loss against St. John's in the undercard of last night's ACC-Big East Challenge series at the Capital Centre.
That much was obvious, at least, to Bobby Cremins when he peeked through the fingers that covered his eyes.
"Kenny's struggling right now because so much is expected of him," Cremins said. "He's trying to do a little too much.
"We're not settled on offense. I'm really disappointed in our offense right now. We've really got some things to work on."
A year ago in Tech's glorious run to the Final Four, Anderson was everybody's All-American. Last night against the Redmen, he looked like a guy going through growing pains, like a point guard who missed former teammates Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver.
In 45 frustrating minutes, these were Anderson's critical statistics: 5-for-20 shooting, 1-for-6 from three-point range, two assists, eight turnovers, 14 points. Very ordinary numbers for a player whose image dominates the cover of Tech's media guide. The wonder of it all did not elude the precocious sophomore.
"I shot the ball lousy," Anderson marveled, "and we were still in the game."
Not that it was all Anderson's fault. The Yellow Jackets (2-2) shared equally in the blame after they let a 36-30 halftime lead dissolve in grisly fashion early in the second half. As Cremins said, "We were horrible the first 12 minutes of the second half. I know we have a young team, but we've got to be better than that."
The Jackets' evening of torment came down to a field goal that shouldn't have been, and a foul call that inadvertently righted the previous wrong. Anderson was a key figure in both plays.
The field goal was Tech's and forged a 60-60 tie at the end of regulation. St. John's (4-0) had a 60-58 lead, but Tech had the ball at midcourt and a timeout with 2.9 seconds left. After the timeout, Anderson got off a shot over 6-foot-11 Robert Werdann in the left corner. The shot missed, but because Werdann had left his man to guard Anderson, Tech's Matt Geiger was open for an uncontested lay-in off the rebound. That it came after time expired was not detected by the officials, who sent the game into overtime.
Of the decision to let the field goal stand, Anderson said, "I don't know what happened. That's the refs' job."
Overtime started with promise for the Jackets. St. John's Malik Sealy, a one-man gang with 28 points, picked up three fouls in the first three minutes and fouled out. Tech, meanwhile, led four times. The last lead was 68-66 on an Anderson jumper.
It wasn't enough. A bucket by Werdann and four free throws by Terence Mullin and Billy Singleton put St. John's on top, 72-70. Two free throws by Anderson with 6.2 seconds left tied the game again at 72.
Without using a timeout, Mullin inbounded to point guard Jason Buchanan, who sprinted for the other end of the floor. At midcourt, Tech's Ivano Newbill, a 6-9 freshman, cut off Buchanan's path and was whistled for a foul. With 3.7 on the clock, Buchanan, who had guarded Anderson all evening, sank the first of two shots for St. John's winning margin. Tech rebounded the missed second free throw but was unable to get off a shot of its own.
"The foul at the end wasn't a smart foul," Cremins said. "Newbill said he didn't reach in, but that's the last thing you want in that situation."
Both Anderson and Newbill insisted there should have been no foul called on the play.
"[Newbill] didn't foul him," Anderson said. "He went for the ball and didn't get it."
Said Newbill, "In my opinion, I slapped the ball and it hit off [Buchanan's] foot out of bounds. I didn't touch him. From the angle [the official] had, it looked like I must have touched him. But I didn't."
It was the final, and perhaps fitting, note to Tech's sour symphony.
"We're not comfortable as a team," Cremins said. "We've got to find some answers. Quickly."