Illinois nearly made up a 15-point deficit in the final five minutes tonight on the strength of a brilliant shooting performace by guard Doug Altenberger, who scored 14 of his team's final 16 points in a losing cause.
But when this East Regional semifinal ended, the chant, "ACC, ACC" could be heard all over the Civic Center because Georgia Tech held on to beat the Illini, 61-53.
The Yellow Jackets, Atlantic Coast Conference champions, advanced to Saturday's regional final against Georgetown largely because of junior guard Mark Price, who scored 20 points on nine-for-12 shooting.
Georgia Tech (27-7) led, 54-39, with 6:28 left when Altenberger, who scored a game-high 24 points, hit five straight jumpers from 20 feet or farther. The last one brought the Illini (27-8) to 55-47 and caused Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins to call time with four minutes to play.
"From 30 feet, he looked like Mark Price from the foul line," Georgia Tech's John Salley said. "And I've seen Price make 100 in a row."
The Illini did all this with Bruce Douglas, who had a terrible game, on the bench. He missed five of six shots and committed nine turnovers.
When Georgia Tech's Bruce Dalrymple missed the front end of a one-and-one with two minutes to play, Altenberger responded with two free throws, then a long jumper (from the top of the NBA's three-point arc) that made it 55-51.
But Altenberger fouled out trying to make a steal and left the game to a standing ovation.
Cremins led the cheers. "I was very glad to see him foul out of the game. Great call," Cremins cracked. "I am very biased toward Mark Price; I think he's the greatest shooter in the country. But Altenberger put on a show. He made me, well . . . consider him."
Altenberger made 11 of 17 shots, and Illinois Coach Lou Henson thought the junior guard should have shot more. "I was unhappy with the point guards that we didn't get him the ball earlier and more often," Henson said.
Once Altenberger had fouled out, Henson inserted Douglas, his second-leading scorer, back into the lineup. Douglas missed a jumper that could have put the Illini back within four, and Tech held on to win.
The Yellow Jackets got 14 points each from John Salley and center Yvon Joseph. Tech shot 56 percent.
The Illini started better than that. They shot 62 percent in the first half and overcame an eight-point deficit to tie the score at 29, at intermission on a 22-foot jumper from the corner by Altenberger.
But Illinois shot only 38 percent in the second half. Anthony Welsh, a 6-9 forward, was his team's only other player to score in double figures, with 10.
When the Illini hit a cold spell in the second half, Georgia Tech broke to a 44-35 lead when Joseph posted Efrem Winters and completed a three-point play.
After Altenberger missed a running jumper, Salley's two foul shots extended the lead to 46-35.
A long jumper by Price put the Jackets ahead, 50-37. The game seemed out of reach at the time, but that was before Altenberger took over. "We broke down," Cremins said. "But he was putting on a show."