ATLANTA - A two-game losing streak brought big changes for No. 12 Georgia Tech. All the Yellow Jackets really needed was a return to basics.
Georgia Tech shuffled its starting line-up and defensive rotations in the post Thursday night against Virginia, but the Yellow Jackets' comfortable 75-57 victory was rooted in defensive intensity and transition offense, the staples of Georgia Tech's 12-game winning streak to start the season.
"After those two losses, Coach (Paul Hewitt) said we've got to get back to playing Georgia Tech basketball," senior Marvin Lewis said.
Returning home didn't hurt either. The Yellow Jackets, who dropped consecutive road games at Georgia and North Carolina, won for the 23rd time in 25 games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
After falling behind badly in their past two games, the Yellow Jackets made wholesale changes to their starting line-up. Clarence Moore, Will Bynum and Isma'il Muhammad started in place of Anthony McHenry, Marvin Lewis and B.J. Elder.
The move seemed to work, as Georgia Tech (13-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) hung tough with Virginia through a blistering start. The Cavaliers made five of six 3-pointers to start the game, but couldn't shake Georgia Tech during that hot streak.
Virginia (10-4, 0-3) hit seven of its first eight 3-point attempts, but missed its final 13 shots from behind the arc. The Cavaliers scored 15 points in the first 3:46 - all on 3-pointers - and then scored just 15 points the rest of the half.
Virginia turned the ball over on seven of nine possessions following the fifth 3-pointer. The Cavaliers had 12 first-half turnovers and 21 for the game.
"Defensively, we did some really good things and that led to some pretty easy baskets for us," Hewitt said. "As long as our defense continues to play that way we've been playing all year, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win some basketball games this season."
Georgia Tech took the lead at 18-16 on a lay-up by Muhammad and never trailed again. Virginia closed to 30-29 on a lay-up by Elton Brown, but Georgia Tech went on an 11-1 run to close the half with a 41-30 lead.
"It's a game of spurts, and talented teams like Duke and Georgia Tech go on spurts and we get caught up in it," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "They get a little lead, we get a little frazzled and get a little individual and get flustered and the spurt gets bigger."
Georgia Tech allowed opposing centers - Georgia's Jarvis Hayes (25 points) and North Carolina's Sean May (28) - to set career highs in the past two games, but doubled down every time Brown got the ball. Brown finished with just 10 points, six below his season average, on 2-for-6 shooting. He had four assists and four turnovers.
Muhammad, the ACC leader in field goal percentage, scored 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the first half, including two thunderous dunks that enlivened the sellout crowd.
"That's what coach was trying to do (with the line-up change), get us off to a pretty good start," said Muhammad, who finished with 13 points and did not experience the cramps that have limited him in the second half of games this season. "The team fed off the energy."
Hewitt told his guards - Lewis, Elder, Muhammad, Bynum and Jarrett Jack (12 points, seven assists) - in December that the lineup could change according to opposing personnel. Hewitt made the switch on Thursday to provide more on-ball defense and dribble penetration with Bynum and Muhammad.
Lewis and Elder, the team's leading scorer, responded well to coming off the bench. Lewis scored a game-high 17 points and Elder added 16.
"Any combination can start. So that wasn't a surprise, and that's one of the reasons Marvin and B.J. handled it so well," Hewitt said. "Those guys came off the bench and gave us a big lift."
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