Schenscher reaches new heights for Tech

Final Four

April 04, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

SAN ANTONIO - Georgia Tech center Luke Schenscher's nickname is "The Big Fundamental." If you watched him play last year, you would know why. If you watched him play last night, there would be a change of opinion.

Lost among guard Will Bynum's layup with 1.5 seconds remaining, giving Georgia Tech a 67-65 win over Oklahoma State in the NCAA semifinals, was the play of Schenscher, who scored a game-high 19 points.

But that's the way it has been all year for Schenscher. He just does the dirty work while most of the publicity goes to Jarrett Jack, Marvin Lewis and B.J. Elder. The highlight-reel material belongs to teammates Isma'il Muhammad or Bynum.

"We have a lot of confidence in Luke," said Lewis. "Every day in practice, he works hard. Over the summer, he worked harder than anybody at getting better. I'm just excited that it's finally coming where he's getting rewards for all his hard work. I hope he just continues."

Oh, he will. It seems to be part of his personality. Schenscher is from Hope Forest, South Australia. In the previous two seasons, he started in just 21 games, averaging 4.8 points as a freshman and 3.7 last season. But this year, the 7-foot-1, 255-pound Schenscher averaged 27.1 minutes and 6.2 points.

And then there was last night. Schenscher was 9-for-13 from the field and collected a game-high 12 rebounds. When Oklahoma State started getting close in the second half, Tech coach Paul Hewitt ordered his guards to spread the offense and pound the ball down low to Schenscher.

Schenscher had some motivation. He knew his family was back home watching.

"I don't have too much athleticism - natural athleticism, anyway," said Schenscher. "That's how I get more points and get people open. Yeah, that's what they teach in Australia. We don't have the athletes like Americans have, so we have to go about playing different ways.

"Yeah, I think one thing I always had in the back of my mind was that my family was watching back home. This game, they got to see it," said Schenscher.

"Same with the Kansas game. That always gives me extra motivation and edge when I know that they're watching back home. I think my whole town actually came to my place to watch the game at 7 or 8 in the morning."

Schenscher played Australian Rules Football back home. It was physical, and prepared him for life in Division I basketball. He seems to have made the adjustment on and off the court at Georgia Tech, at least with the fans.

"Luuuke" is yelled every time he enters a game. T-shirts with his likeness, red hair and all, have been distributed around campus. He even has a posse, which might be because his game has gotten so much better. He has a little turnaround jumper from the low post now and a baby hook with either his right or left hand.

Several times, he beat the Cowboys down the court for uncontested layups, which irritated Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton.

But Oklahoma State had no answer for Schenscher.

"As for Schenscher, one reason he can catch the ball against us, we were giving away so much size," said Sutton. "It's hard for [Ivan] McFarlin or [Terrence] Crawford or Joey [Graham] to cover a guy if you let him get the ball that deep."

Schenscher also had a major role in the game-winning play. With about 10 seconds left, Bynum dribbled to the top of the key. He bolted right off a pick by Schenscher, and then blew by guard John Lucas and sailed in uncontested for the game-winning layup.

A partisan Oklahoma State crowd of 44,417 at the Alamodome was stunned.

But it had been fun watching the Yellow Jackets play. Twice, Jack (10 points) nearly broke Lucas' ankles on cross-over dribbles, once sending him crashing into onlookers under the basket in the second half. Georgia Tech has the outside shooting of Lewis (15 points), and the defensive skills of forward Anthony McHenry.

The Jackets just run teams into the ground, creating an energy crisis. They played nine men last night, eight for at least 15 minutes. And give Hewitt credit. He doesn't spend a lot of time devising cute plays for crunch time. It was a pick-and-roll last night. He gives his stars the ball, the green light, and says go.

After watching Georgia Tech, you wonder who can keep up with its pace and relentless style. Oklahoma State made it close, but it was more a result of the Yellow Jackets' sloppy play than the Cowboys staging a great comeback. But sloppiness and carelessness happen when you have good players who have no fear.

One of those players last night was Schenscher.

Tomorrow night, though, he will face his biggest challenge. The opponent will be Connecticut center Emeka Okafor, who carried the Huskies in their win over Duke last night in the other semifinal.

Hewitt, though, is glad to have Schenscher on his side.

"Defensively, his 7-foot presence has been very big for us," said Hewitt. "Offensively, he's a good passer out of the post. He screens well. He finishes around the basket. And quite frankly, there aren't a whole lot of 7-footers running around college basketball these days."

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