April 03, 2004

Georgia Tech Tops OSU to Make NCAA Final

SAN ANTONIO - Georgia Tech's Will Bynum sent the Yellow Jackets further than they've ever gone, putting them into the championship game by shaking loose for a layup with 1.5 seconds left to beat Oklahoma State 67-65 Saturday.

Georgia Tech players swarm Will Bynum after their 67-65 win as Oklahoma State's Joey Graham at right leaves the court in their NCAA Final Four semifinal game Saturday, April 3, 2004, in San Antonio. Bynum sunk the game-winning basket in the closing seconds of the game.

Now coach Paul Hewitt and his third-seeded Jackets will play for the title Monday night against Connecticut, a 79-78 winner over Duke in the other semifinal. Tech has already beaten the Huskies this season.

Not bad for a team that was hardly expected to do anything this season.

"Everybody thinks we're underdogs except for the people in this locker room. I think that's all that matters anyway," Tech guard Jarrett Jack said.

The Cowboys trailed most of the game before John Lucas capped a furious comeback with a 3-pointer that tied it at 65 with 26.3 seconds left. But Bynum, who nearly transferred to Oklahoma State to join a high school friend, made certain this group of unknowns would stick around.

"Never throughout this entire tournament run, in any of the five games, did I see doubt in their eyes," Hewitt said.

Picked to finish a lowly seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Jackets got off to a great start before their team of unknowns stumbled a bit in finishing the regular season at 22-8.

And surrounded by big names like Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun and Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton at this Final Four, it was if the Yellow Jackets didn't even belong. They hadn't been here in a while, making their only other trip in 1990.

"This is something that we worked for all year. A lot of people didn't think we'd get here," Tech guard B.J. Elder said.

Elder and Jack are Tech's leading scorers, but they struggled. And that left it to Bynum.

After Lucas' tying shot, the Jackets called timeout. They worked the ball around to Bynum, who didn't even start. He drove down the right side of the lane, double-clutched and banked home the winner over the outstretched arms of Ivan McFarlin.

"This is the biggest shot I've ever taken in my life," Bynum said. "I didn't feel any pressure. The only pressure I felt was going into the locker room with me missing it."

Lucas, the star of Oklahoma State's thrilling win over Saint Joseph's in the regional final, threw up an airball from practically the other end of the court at the buzzer.

When it was over, the Jackets mobbed Bynum. One of his longest and closest friends, Cowboys star guard Tony Allen, even waded into the Tech huddle to congratulate his buddy.

"He said, 'You got me this time,'" Bynum said.

Bynum started his college career at Arizona, then wanted to transfer. It came down to Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech.

"He made a good decision," Sutton said.

Marvin Lewis shot the Jackets out to an early lead from 3-point range and curly-haired center Luke Schenscher kept them ahead until Lucas' late heroics.

Schenscher had 19 points and 12 rebounds and Lewis had 15, all on first-half 3-pointers. Bynum finished 11.

Lucas scored 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting. Joey Graham had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the second-seeded Cowboys and Ivan McFarlin had 16.

"It's tough because I failed," Lucas said. "All year I've been achieving my goals and when it came to the biggest one I failed."

The loss ended Sutton's 34th year as a head coach and left him still without a championship. This was his third trip to the Final Four, having last made it in 1995.

"Part of you feels a little bit bad for him," Hewitt said.

Tech seemed to be in charge when it scored the first two baskets of the second half for a 41-30 lead.

But Lucas rallied the Cowboys, closing them to 53-51 with a pair of baskets.

Both teams said this game would come down to tempo, and Georgia Tech controlled it. The smaller and faster Yellow Jackets buzzed around the ball, running at every opportunity and occasionally slapping on a full-court press that forced the Cowboys to become sloppy.

Tech could afford to gamble because at every turn, there was Schenscher. Often taunted as "Big Bird" by opposing fans, the 7-foot-1 Australian gave the Yellow Jackets an inside presence at both ends of the court.

"Everyone calls me 'The Big Fundamental,'" he said.

A streak shooter, it was clear from the start that this was Lewis' day. And with Jack struggling to get going and Elder still limping with a sprained ankle, Lewis' timing was perfect — and unexpected.

Lewis scored just one point and shot 0-for-6 in Tech's last game, a 79-71 overtime win against Kansas in the St. Louis Regional final.

Showing a shooter's mentality — they're bound to go in sooner or later — Lewis hit his first three 3-point tries, missed one, then backed up a hit a couple more.

At one point, an exasperated Sutton called out to his team, "Who's guarding that guy?"

Six minutes in, he had already passed his season average of 11 points. He scored 15 of Tech's first 29 points, more than enough to offset Elder's injury.

Elder was Tech's leading scorer this season, but got hurt early in St. Louis. He was held scoreless and played only 15 minutes in those two tournament games, and did not score against Oklahoma State until hitting the first basket of the second half.

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