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Peach Bowl Classic

December 16, 2002 Columns No Comments


Georgia on my Mind – the Peach Bowl Classic

by Phil Kasiecki

On Sunday, the Second Annual Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Classic for Kids was held at Philips Arena in Atlanta. While known more for the football game played on New Year’s Day, the basketball event was a nice doubleheader featuring four teams that we could see in March. With the hometown Falcons playing an early game next door at the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena was mostly empty at tip-off of the first game. By the end of the afternoon, close to 11,000 spectators had gathered to witness a terrific ending.

Georgia (4-3) 95, Gonzaga (5-3) 83

The first game was a battle of Bulldogs as Georgia took on Gonzaga. Georgia ran off 12 straight points to break open a close game and had a solid first half, then had answers to every Gonzaga charge in the second half in a 95-83 win.

In the second half, Gonzaga had more energy in the early going, but they could never sustain it and never got within single digits until the final minutes of the game. They would get as close as 83-76 on consecutive three-pointers by Tony Skinner and a dunk by Richard Fox with under three minutes to play.

Georgia got every loose ball and won the battle on the boards easily, 38-24. Rebounding was thought to be a strength for Gonzaga with their big frontline, but not on this day as Georgia had 17 offensive rebounds that translated into 21 second-chance points. Georgia also shot nearly 53% from the field, as they clicked on all cylinders offensively for much of the game.

Jarvis Hayes played an excellent game for Georgia, leading five players in double figures with a game-high 29 points and 5 assists. Ezra Williams had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, and a real key for the Bulldogs was the lift Richard Wehunt gave them off the bench with 13 points. Ronny Turiaf led Gonzaga with 20 points.

Georgia looked a lot like many predicted in the preseason. Jarvis Hayes shot the ball well and scored on drives, while the inside play of Chris Daniels and Jonas Hayes was unspectacular but effective, even against the bigger front line of Gonzaga. Lost in all of this was Damien Wilkins’ effort, as he made 4 of 5 shots and had 8 assists, while turning it over just twice.

Gonzaga has a good lineup, but their front line did not deliver today as expected, especially on the glass. Turiaf scored 14 of his points at the free throw line, but he had just three rebounds. Richard Fox had 15 points, but matched Turiaf’s three rebounds. Zach Gourde had just two rebounds in 24 minutes, and Cory Violette had just 6 points. Blake Stepp’s struggles did not help, as he battled foul trouble while scoring just four points.

The first half set the stage for the game with Georgia’s run, though Gonzaga struggled mightily. “What we showed in the first half will literally not win another Division I game”, Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said in the post-game press conference. “Ultimately, we exorcised that demon and got it out and played the next 20 minutes much better.”

This game figures to be a microcosm of Gonzaga’s season, in that they will pick it up from here and finish the season just fine. We will see them again in March.

Tennessee (3-1) 70, Georgia Tech (4-2) 69

Jon Higgins hit a three-pointer from half court as time expired to give Tennessee an amazing 70-69 victory over Georgia Tech in the second game.

Georgia Tech led by as many as 13 in this game and led most of the way, but they never put the Volunteers away despite having their chances. Tennessee committed 22 turnovers and allowed the Yellow Jackets to score 13 second-chance points, but they stayed in by shooting 51% from the field. Ron Slay (game-high 28 points on 11-18 shooting, 12 rebounds) and Higgins (16 points on 5-7 shooting including 4 of 6 three-pointers, 6 assists) led the way in that department.

After B.J. Elder (21 points) made the second of two free throws, Slay had to inbound the ball with no timeouts and just 0.5 seconds left. He hit Higgins around half court and he somehow got the shot off just in time. The officials reviewed the play and counted the basket, leaving the Yellow Jackets and many of the hometown fans stunned.

The Yellow Jackets opened the second half by scoring the first 10 points to open up their largest lead, but Tennessee would gradually cut into the lead. The Yellow Jackets did not make a field goal in the final 7:25 after a layup by Isma’il Muhammad (13 points) gave them a 13-point lead once again. Also hurting them was missing 6 of 11 free throws in the final 2:16, and making just 15 of 29 from the charity stripe for the game.

The big key was that the Yellow Jackets never put the Volunteers away, as Muhammad elaborated on after the game. “They took advantage of every opportunity we threw their way”, Muhammad said. Head coach Paul Hewitt had similar sentiments, saying, “Bottom line, we had the chance to put them away, and we didn’t put them away.”

The Volunteers don’t have the talent they have had in recent seasons, but this team will be one to keep an eye on. Slay is leading the SEC in scoring and had a solid game today, while Higgins has always been an excellent shooter. Brandon Crump did not play well today, but he has improved, and if he and Elgrace Wilborn (10 rebounds, 5 blocked shots) can consistently give them rebounding and defense in the post, the Volunteers will be in good shape up front. Freshman point guard C.J. Watson looked erratic at times, but made some key plays as well that included a game-tying three-pointer with 1:54 to play. He will be a good point guard sooner rather than later.

The young Yellow Jackets figure to be among the top teams in a wide-open ACC this season. The Yellow Jackets start three sophomores and two freshmen, all of whom will get better. Elder is a nice scoring wing (21 points in this game, including 5-7 on three-pointers), Jarrett Jack will be a good point guard (6 assists, 2 turnovers in this game), Muhammad gives them a strong wing who can play defense, and many are keeping an eye on McDonald’s All-American Chris Bosh. Bosh did not play his best game against Tennessee as he mainly scored on put-backs (12 points, 9 rebounds), but the potential is there if he gets stronger as he is very active on the offensive glass. This was the first game in which he did not have a double-double in his young career. Sophomore Ed Nelson, last season’s ACC Rookie of the Year, is a solid reserve, while junior Marvin Lewis gives them a good shooter off the bench.

     

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