Georgia Tech finished last in the ACC last season, but if it can build off its highest-scoring game in almost three years, it could provide plenty of confidence early in 2009-10.
The 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets get an early test Thursday when they take on No. 18 Dayton in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Georgia Tech went 12-19 last season—including 2-14 in conference play— and finished 10th in the ACC in scoring at 71.2 points per game.
Despite the disappointing season, the Yellow Jackets began this campaign ranked and with expectations of being among the nation’s best. One big reason for those hopes is the return of forward Gani Lawal, who averaged 15.1 points and 9.5 rebounds last season.
Another is a highly-heralded freshman class, led by 6-foot-10 forward Derrick Favors.
Favors debuted with 10 points and eight rebounds while Lawal had 16 and 12 Saturday in a 100-59 rout of Florida A&M. It was the first time Georgia Tech, which lost two of its top three scorers from last season in Lewis Clinch and Alade Aminu, scored 100 in regulation since a 103-74 victory over Georgia State in 2006.
“I told them this is the ultimate,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “If you just check all your personal goals at the door and play as hard as you can when you’re out there, we have a chance to have a great team, I mean a great team. We’ve got tremendous depth.”
Hewitt’s team, which starts three underclassmen, will get an early test against the Flyers, who opened their season with a 90-80 win over Creighton on Saturday.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Hewitt said. “Dayton has a lot of experienced guys back from last year. It’s a great opportunity for our young guys especially.”
Dayton also has big expectations after winning 27 games in 2008-09 and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament. While the Yellow Jackets are turning to youth, the Flyers are relying on more experienced players with four starters returning, including three seniors.
Junior Chris Wright, who led Dayton last season with 13.3 points per game, picked up where he left off, scoring a game-high 25 Saturday. He tallied 18 points in the second half, helping the Flyers rally from a five-point deficit at the break. Dayton went on a 17-9 run late in the game with Wright scoring nine during that stretch.
“Coming into the second half, we had to calm down,” Wright said. “With it being the first game and everything, we played with too much adrenalin and not enough focus in the first half.”
Wright and the Flyers uncharacteristically struggled on defense. Last season they had the second-best scoring defense in the Atlantic 10, giving up 61.4 points per game. The only time they gave up more than 79 points was in a 93-91 overtime loss to Rhode Island on Feb. 25.
Dayton, though, felt positive about its defensive effort in the second half. After allowing Creighton to shoot 55.6 percent in the first half, the Flyers held the Bluejays to 41.9 percent in the second.
“(Coach Brian Gregory) came and challenged us in the locker room at half,” Wright said. “We knew we had to get stops to win and that’s what we did.”
This is the second meeting between the two and first since Dayton won 65-63 in 1977.
The winner of this game will face the winner of No. 5 Villanova versus George Mason.