In rematch with Maryland in ACC tournament, Georgia Tech looks inside

The Washington Post's Steve Yanda reports from Greensboro, N.C., on Maryland's first-round ACC Tournament matchup against Georgia Tech.
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010; 12:00 AM

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In the moments after Maryland junior guard Cliff Tucker made a game-winning three-pointer to beat Georgia Tech three weeks ago, Yellow Jackets guard Glen Rice Jr. began second-guessing himself. In that situation -- his team up by one with 1.5 seconds left in the game -- the last thing he wanted to do, he said, was commit a foul. So Rice elected to raise his hands high and hope for the best.

But maybe, Rice suggested to teammate Iman Shumpert on the slog to the visiting locker room at Comcast Center, he should have jumped and tried to block Tucker's shot. Maybe, if he had done that, Georgia Tech's effort, lauded afterward by both teams' coaches, would have been rewarded.

On Friday night, Georgia Tech and Maryland will meet again, this time in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. For the Yellow Jackets, the meeting offers a chance to rid themselves of the sickening feeling that has lingered for the past three weeks. For the Terrapins, it marks an opportunity to continue their late-season hot streak as they begin postseason play.

Georgia Tech erased a 10-point halftime deficit Thursday in its first round matchup against North Carolina to bolster its case for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Afterward, players spoke confidently that this time, the outcome against Maryland would be different.

"I feel like if we don't turn the ball over as much and execute and just pound it inside -- I mean, pound it inside -- it'll be another 'W' on our schedule," senior forward Zach Peacock said.

The common theme inside a relieved postgame Georgia Tech locker room Thursday night was that Friday's contest against the Terrapins would be decided in the post -- and more specifically, in their ability to feed the ball there.

Many of Georgia Tech's key performers are underclassmen, so the coaching staff has struggled all season to keep the Yellow Jackets cognizant of the fact that the team's strength lies in its frontcourt. Georgia Tech possesses third team all-ACC forward Gani Lawal, as well as freshman forward Derrick Favors, the ACC rookie of the year.

In the first half Thursday against North Carolina, Georgia Tech settled for too many jump shots in an effort to instantly erase the Tar Heels' early lead. More patient in the second half, the Yellow Jackets made a more concerted effort to find Lawal and Favors down low and shot 50 percent from the field as a result. Georgia Tech's frontcourt duo combined for 30 points and 13 rebounds on 12 for 16 shooting.

"We've got to keep playing inside-out and stop saying we'll play inside-out," senior swingman D'Andre Bell said. "If you look at our games, we tend to play outside-in, you know, we get ahead of ourselves, but as long as we stay poised and play inside-out and get the ball in to Gani Lawal, Zach Peacock and Derrick Favors, we'll be fine."

Last time out against Maryland, Favors turned in perhaps his most complete performance of the season. He grabbed 18 rebounds -- nine of which came off the offensive glass -- and tallied 21 points.

Maryland freshman forward Jordan Williams -- who finished second to Favors in the ACC rookie of the year voting -- responded with a solid showing of his own. Williams registered nine points and 12 rebounds that night.

Williams's rapid development on both ends of the court proved to be a central reason why Maryland was able to claim a share of the ACC regular season title with Duke. Williams has been the Terrapins' most prolific and consistent rebounder all season, and with senior forward Landon Milbourne stuck in a rut, they will need him to display more of his precocious talent Friday night against Georgia Tech.

Lawal said it was tough watching the highlights of Tucker's game-winning shot over and over again in the days after Maryland's late-February win. And while he acknowledged the Terrapins' talents, he remained firm in his belief of the Yellow Jackets' primary advantage.

"That's our strength every time we step on the floor," Lawal said of Georgia Tech's frontcourt play. "We want to flex our muscle every time, and that's what we're going to do [Friday]: inside-out, inside-out. Pound it inside. We feel they can't stop us. Not to be cocky or anything, but that's just a fact -- they can't stop us down low."

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