Originally created 12/06/01

Georgia State hopes to keep playing state schools



ATLANTA -- Georgia State has every reason to call itself the best basketball program in the state.

The Panthers won 29 games last season and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, a step ahead of both Georgia and Georgia Tech. On Tuesday night, Georgia State beat the Bulldogs for the second year in a row.

Yet, it remains to be seen if the Panthers will get a chance to play the state's two most prominent programs in the future.

A home-and-home deal with Georgia is finished, and the Bulldogs aren't saying if they'll keep the series going.

"I'd like for it too," Georgia State coach Lefty Driesell said. "That's up to Georgia."

"Maybe," countered his Bulldogs counterpart, Jim Harrick. "I'm not afraid to play them again."

At least Harrick agreed to face the Panthers. Georgia Tech refuses to schedule Georgia State, even though the campuses are only about a mile apart in downtown Atlanta.

"We'd love to play Tech," Panthers guard Darryl Cooper said. "We're just as good as those guys, if not better."

After a practice Wednesday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt brushed off questions about playing Georgia State. The schools met 16 times from 1969-93 - the Yellow Jackets won 14 times - but Tech has balked at restarting the series.

"I know Lefty has run a lot of different programs, but I'm making the decisions that are best for Georgia Tech," Hewitt said. "I appreciate Lefty's advice about running my program. Right now, I like what I'm doing."

Would he ever consider playing the Panthers?

"We may never play them," Hewitt replied. "We may play them next year. I'm going to make the decisions that are best for Georgia Tech."

Translation: The Yellow Jackets see no upside in scheduling Georgia State, which still gets scant attention locally despite its recent success.

Still, Hewitt hasn't totally ignored the school down the street. He knew the ol' left-hander thanked Harrick for being "man enough" to play the Panthers.

"You can tell Lefty that I've checked my manhood," Hewitt said. "It's going just fine."

Two days after taking the Yellow Jackets job, Hewitt ran into Driesell at a Naismith Awards banquet. Already, the 69-year-old coach was lobbying for a series between the two Atlanta schools.

"He said we could get a big trophy and play the game at Philips Arena," Hewitt recalled, smiling. "I'm glad Lefty is doing great. I know we need some help (the Yellow Jackets are 3-4). But we'll pass on the help."

The Panthers certainly proved they were better than Georgia two years running.

On Tuesday, the Bulldogs had no one who could handle junior college transfer Nate Williams. The 6-foot-11 center - much more agile than his size would indicate - had 25 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks, three assists and a steal.

"I knew they would come at us after what happened last year," said Williams, who wasn't around for Georgia State's 91-79 victory in Athens. "We played our game. It looked like the better team won."

Even though Georgia played without one of its best players - Jarvis Hayes was sidelined with a knee injury - the Panthers' victory was still impressive.

They shot 54 percent (31-of-57) from the field and became the first team to outrebound the Bulldogs, 36-33.

Georgia won its first five games, including an upset of No. 19 Georgetown, but was denied its best start since the Final Four season of 1982-83.

"They outplayed us in every phase of the game," Harrick said. "This team has played its utmost game against us two times in a row."

Georgia guard Ezra Williams admitted that it was hard to get fired up to play Georgia State, a commuter school that had the losingest basketball program in the country until Driesell took over as coach.

"It's a big thing for them to beat us," Williams said. "We took them lightly."

Despite Georgia State's two straight victories, this series is far from being a dynamic rivalry.

Just witness the crowd that turned out at the Georgia Dome, where 5,102 fans had plenty of elbow room.

"We played Georgetown here a couple of years ago and had 10,000 people," Driesell moaned. "To have 5,000 people is an insult. These were two darn good teams, and one of them was undefeated. It's a disgrace."

The Georgia State fans who did show up enjoyed the moment. They charged the court after the horn sounded, mobbing the players. "Lefty Loonies" stood at center court, taunting the larger Georgia contingent that was quietly heading for the exits.

"We're the best team in Georgia!" Lamont McIntosh screamed as he left the court.

No one disagreed.