Tech, UConn squeak by

Jackets top Okla. State, 67-65, on Bynum drive, layup at :01.5

Ga. Tech in title game for first time

Sutton's Cowboys fall short

ACC gets a team in final

Final Four

April 04, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SAN ANTONIO - Georgia Tech has walked a tightrope and leaned on its bench throughout this NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Last night, with a trip to the school's first national championship game hanging in the balance at the Alamodome, the Yellow Jackets nearly crumbled in the closing minutes after controlling Oklahoma State for much of the national semifinal, but held their poise just long enough, then asked backup junior guard Will Bynum to save them.

Bynum, the athletic transfer from Arizona who is generously listed at 6 feet, calmly delivered the biggest basket in school history. With time winding down, he darted around a screen set by center Luke Schenscher near the top of the key, drove by Cowboys point guard John Lucas, then converted a layup with 1.5 seconds remaining to lift Georgia Tech to a 67-65 victory before 44,417.

The victory sent the Yellow Jackets of the Atlantic Coast Conference into the championship game tomorrow night against Connecticut, a 79-78 winner over Duke last night.

For Georgia Tech, it was just another teeth-gnashing day at the office. The Yellow Jackets have won five NCAA tournament games by a combined total of 23 points. They are the first team to make it to the title game by winning five games by a single-digit margin since Arizona did it in 1997. The Wildcats won it all that year.

The Yellow Jackets (28-9), who dealt Oklahoma State (31-4) its first loss in 11 games, believe they can pull it off. And Bynum, who came off the bench to make shots in Tech's St. Louis Regional victories over Nevada and Kansas that accounted for the final lead change in each game, feels he can do the same one more time.

"This is the biggest shot I ever took in my life. I mean, it's like a dream come true, making a shot like this at this high level. I mean, words can't describe how I feel right now," said Bynum, who hurt the Cowboys with his ability to penetrate for much of the second half and finished with 11 points.

"The coaches and players instilled a lot of confidence in me. They had confidence in me to take the last shot. Luckily, I made it."

His teammates had no reservations about Bynum last night. With 26.3 seconds left, after Lucas made a three-pointer to tie the score at 65 - marking the first time the Yellow Jackets had not led since taking a 24-22 lead with 8:06 left in the first half - Tech called timeout and huddled up.

Coach Paul Hewitt asked his players for input, and senior guard Marvin Lewis (Germantown), who got the Yellow Jackets' stagnant offense going by making five three-pointers in the first half to account for all of his 15 points, spoke up on Bynum's behalf. Lewis merely re-enforced the idea Hewitt had in mind.

"At the end, there was no doubt we were going to put the ball in Will Bynum's hands. We wanted to run a screen-and-roll from the top of the key," Hewitt said. "Because of his heart, his competitiveness, we felt that was the best option. Even the kids in the huddle, I think Marvin is the one that said, `Let's give the ball screen up top, just live with [Bynum's] decision.' "

"Coming out of the huddle, Coach said to get the ball with about 10 seconds left, run the screen-and-roll," added Bynum, who nearly went to Oklahoma State before choosing Georgia Tech. "If somebody is open, hit him. If not, take the shot. In my mind, I was thinking `take the shot' the whole time."

Bynum's heroics capped a night in which the heroes popped up everywhere for Tech. Schenscher was unstoppable in the post, where he produced game-highs of 19 points and 12 rebounds, including 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the second half.

Sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington) finished with 10 points and five assists, and used his larger frame to stifle Lucas, who nearly lifted the Cowboys with some clutch shooting, but finished with 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting.

The Yellow Jackets once again survived without an effective B.J. Elder. Tech's leading scorer, coming back from a foot injury that rendered him scoreless in 15 minutes in St. Louis, had two points.

From the middle of the first half on, it was clear that Tech had enough defense and depth to take down the Cowboys. The Yellow Jackets, with Lewis leading the way, contained senior guard Tony Allen (13 points, five turnovers) all night, and went on a 15-4 run late in the first half to take a 37-30 halftime lead.

In the second half, Tech built its lead to 45-33 four minutes in, then continued to feed Schenscher inside with good results. His layup made it 53-45 with 10:40 left. That's when the Cowboys finally answered, as Lucas led a 6-0 run by making a three-pointer and an 18-footer to cut the margin to 53-51 with 8:55 to go.

But Tech, with Schenscher and Bynum providing scoring sparks, regained a 65-59 advantage with 3:38 to go, then nearly let the season slip away. The Yellow Jackets committed two huge turnovers down the stretch. Bynum missed a driving layup with 1:30 left. Meanwhile, the Cowboys converted three foul shots, then tied the game on a three by Lucas.

"When you get here, I thought we could get to the championship game," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton. "I'm disappointed now. About a month from now when I look back on the season we had, it was a marvelous year."

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