Originally created 03/06/02

Yellow Jackets must win Friday to be NIT-eligible



ATLANTA -- What appeared highly unlikely five weeks ago when Georgia Tech was winless in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has become a distinct possibility for the red-hot Yellow Jackets.

With a win Friday night in its ACC tournament opener, Georgia Tech will become eligible for the NIT.

Standing in the way, however, is sixth-seeded Tech's first-round opponent at the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum - No. 3-seeded Wake Forest.

"We've got a great chance to win," said Tony Akins, Tech's point guard, team leader and the only senior on the team.

Tech (15-15 overall, 7-9 ACC) was 0-7 in the league before closing out the regular season with a flourish, winning eight of 10 and five in a row. To receive a bid to the postseason NIT tournament, a team must win 16 games.

"We had faith and I just prayed for a turnaround, but I didn't think we'd be on a run like this," said Akins, a second-team All-ACC pick who led Tech with 16.9 points a game and 5.6 assists.

"But we believed in one another and picked up our game tremendously," he said.

It began Jan. 30 when the Yellow Jackets knocked off Florida State 77-46 for its first ACC win.

Tech went on to beat North Carolina and Clemson, before losing to Duke and Maryland, two of the three top teams in the nation. The Yellow Jackets, however, then reeled off five wins in a row against St. Louis, N.C. State, Virginia, Wake Forest and Florida State again.

"We turned it around, and now we're looking in a different direction," said starting sophomore forward Clarence Moore, who averages 9 points a game.

"Our whole season is riding on this game," he said. "I think we can beat Wake Forest. It will be hard, but they beat us at their place and then we beat them at home, so it should be a battle."

Tech lost at Wake 87-74 on Jan. 26, but turned it around Feb. 27 with a 90-77 win in Atlanta.

If Tech beats Wake Forest, they would face the winner of the Duke-North Carolina game on Saturday.

"If we win, who knows what could happen. We know it's a must-win situation and a chance to play after the ACC tournament," said Moore, who did not rule out taking the title which would ensure an NCAA tournament bid.

"We know we've got to win the tournament for that to happen, but it's a possibility. You never know what can happen. This weekend could be our weekend," he said.

Second-year coach Paul Hewitt has a young team - two freshmen and two sophomore starters as well as two sophomores and three freshmen coming off the bench. But he felt they were coming together in January.

"I'm not going to tell you that I knew we'd win eight of our last 10, but I felt we had the potential. Now Friday is our most important game of the season. It's obvious we have to win to get a postseason bid."