Sports

Louisville presents challenge for struggling Yellow Jackets

DAVID GOLDMAN/Associated PressGeorgia Tech's Marcus Georges-Hunt, right, hits a three-point basket in front of Virginia Tech's Devin Wilson, left, in the second half Jan. 16 in Atlanta. Virginia Tech won 78-77.
DAVID GOLDMAN/Associated PressGeorgia Tech's Marcus Georges-Hunt, right, hits a three-point basket in front of Virginia Tech's Devin Wilson, left, in the second half Jan. 16 in Atlanta. Virginia Tech won 78-77. AP

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Tech basketball staff keeps track of things like deflections and grabbing loose balls, the non-traditional statistics, and compiles them on something coach Brian Gregory calls the "Hustle Board." It's normally an indication of how the team has played hard to make good things happen.

"We win about 90 percent when we win the 'Hustle Board,'" Gregory said. "The one outlier is free throws. So this year it's about 60 percent and it's all due to the free-throw situation."

The Yellow Jackets won the "Hustle Board" against Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, but lost both games because they were outscored decisively at the line. Pitt was 25-for-30 from the line, compared to 8-for-15 for the Yellow Jackets. Virginia Tech was 28-for-36, including 23-for-27 in the second half, while Georgia Tech was 11-for-17.

"We've done a good job taking away the 3-point shot, but if you get outscored 18-20 points in one half from the free throw line " Gregory said. "It's something we need to get focused about."

It won't get any easier on Saturday when No. 17 Louisville comes to McCamish Pavilion for a 4 p.m. start. The Cardinals (15-3, 4-1 ACC) are one of the hottest teams in the ACC and are coming off impressive wins over Florida State and Pitt.

"Over the last three or four weeks they've done a really good job understanding their role and playing system and style," Gregory said. "We'll have to play extremely well for 40 minutes. We've got to take care of business and it's a challenge."

Louisville's balanced attack has four players averaging double figures, led by graduate senior Damion Lee (16.6 points), a transfer from Drexel. Trey Lewis, a graduate senior from Cleveland State, averages 12.2 points and needs three points to reach 1,300 for his career.

Sophomore Chinanu Onuaku, who has five straight double-doubles and is averaging 11.1 rebounds over the last nine games. He averages 10.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.06 blocks.

Georgia Tech played the Cardinals tough last year, with Louisville eking out a 52-51 win. Louisville leads the series 16-13.

Georgia Tech (11-7, 1-4 ACC) is still stinging from last week's 78-77 loss to Virginia Tech, when the Yellow Jackets blew a 10-point lead with four minutes left. Georgia Tech continues to come frustratingly close; its four conference losses have come by a total of 22 points, an average of 5.5 points per game.

The Yellow Jackets have been more competitive this year partially because of their improvement on offense, scoring 13.4 more points per game than last season.

Said Gregory, "Now we have to ramp up the defense in terms of playing without fouling, playing better position defense and making sure we're taking care of the basketball, especially in crucial situations."

It won't be easy. Louisville leads the nation in field goal defense (36.1) and is tops in the ACC in scoring defense (58.2 points). The Cardinals lead the conference with a 12.3 rebounding margin and average 7.8 steals.

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