CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - It's becoming an all-too-familiar, and an extremely frustrating, sight for Georgia Tech: Isma'il Muhammad sitting on the bench, getting his legs iced or rubbed down during critical stretches of the second half.
And so it was on Sunday night when Muhammad, the Yellow Jackets' dynamic sixth-man, played just four ineffective minutes in the second half of Tech's 103-88 loss at North Carolina. As the Yellow Jackets tried to mount their comeback, Muhammad was relegated to the bench where he tried to fight the cramping in his legs.
It's been a recurring theme for Muhammad, who underwent blood tests last week in hopes of determining the cause of the cramps. The tests came back normal. Junior guard B.J. Elder is also struggling with cramping problems. He underwent blood tests and those also came back normal.
"Right now, I have no idea. But we've got to see what the problem is," a visibly frustrated Muhammad said after the game. "It can't go on like this. I run out of gas early in the second half."
No play was more indicative of that Sunday night than one early in the second half. Muhammad made a nice move in the lane and appeared to have a trademark dunk in store despite the traffic in the lane. But he never made it to the basket.
Tech head coach Paul Hewitt figured Muhammad, an explosive leaper, had been fouled, but Muhammad explained during the next timeout.
"Coach, I have no lift in my legs," Muhammad said. "I couldn't get up."
Without Muhammad on the floor, the Yellow Jackets not only lose some of their depth, but a large part of their character. Muhammad, who had nine points and five rebounds in 20 minutes on Sunday, quickly angered the Tar Heel faithful on Sunday night with his aggressive defense on North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton.
"He's a big part of our personality, a big part of what we are. He's a high-energy guy who makes plays," Hewitt said. "It changes our team dramatically if you subtract him."
The 6-foot-6 junior from Atlanta is averaging 11.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game for the No. 12 Yellow Jackets (12-2, 0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference), who fell four spots in the latest Associated Press poll released Monday. His .657 field goal percentage would lead the league but Muhammad is one field goal short of qualifying for that category.
Elder also struggled with cramps Sunday night, though he was able to play 29 minutes against the Tar Heels. He finished with 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field.
Team trainer Tim Hansen, nutritionist Rob Skinner and physician Angelo Galante are working on trying to solve Muhammad's and Elder's cramping problems. Hansen said Monday that the current focus is on making sure the two - who are roommates and close friends - are eating and drinking properly and taking vitamins to remedy any deficiencies in their diet or natural body chemistry.
Former Tech point guard Tony Akins struggled with cramps during his freshman and sophomore seasons before the training staff solved those problems with changes in his diet.
"We're trying to look at exactly what foods they're eating, making sure it's three well-balanced meals a day as well as snacks," Hansen said. "Telling them everything is one thing. But it's hard to monitor unless you follow them around all day."