Georgia Tech has proven to be a tough team to stop when playing up to its potential. It just might have to be at its best to make it through the next two weeks unbeaten.
Following a breakthrough victory in a season of high expectations, the 20th-ranked Yellow Jackets continue a difficult stretch as they visit upset-minded ACC rival Virginia on Wednesday night.
Georgia Tech (12-3, 1-1) bounced back from a dismal defeat in impressive fashion, beating then-No. 5 Duke 71-67 on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets made up for last Tuesday’s 73-66 road loss to a Georgia team which has the SEC’s worst overall record.
“When we’re on top of our game, no one can stop us,” Georgia Tech leading scorer Gani Lawal said.
Lawal was named the ACC player of the week Monday following two 21-point performances. The Yellow Jackets can certainly use more games like that from Lawal as they continue what is perhaps their toughest stretch of the season.
Virginia (9-4, 1-0) has won five straight since a one-point loss at Auburn on Dec. 7. That streak includes a 72-63 victory over then-No. 24 UAB on Dec. 30.
After this contest, Georgia Tech will face No. 12 North Carolina, No. 24 Clemson and No. 25 Florida State before hosting a tough Wake Forest team Jan. 28.
The Yellow Jackets, though, certainly have reason to feel confident. The only time they’ve had a better record through 15 games was when the 2004 Final Four team went 13-2.
Though a heralded freshman class has sparked Georgia Tech, Lawal’s performance and leadership have been crucial. The junior forward, averaging 15.7 points and 9.4 rebounds, has been a valuable presence in the locker room.
“Gani Lawal has done an unbelievable job being a great leader for these guys,”coach Paul Hewitt said. “He gets them fired up before the games. … He does a lot behind the scenes to get these guys pumped up.”
Lawal is joined in the frontcourt by 6-foot-10 freshman Derrick Favors, averaging 11.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Favors, though, has struggled over his last three games, averaging 7.0 points and shooting 40.0 percent.
Still, he’s an imposing presence in the post for a Georgia Tech team holding opponents to 61.8 points per game and 36.4 percent shooting.
The Cavaliers have done an outstanding job of implementing first-year coach Tony Bennett’s defensive philosophy, limiting teams to 57.9 points a contest since winning their season opener 85-72 over Longwood on Nov. 13.
Virgina held North Carolina State to 40.4 percent shooting to win its ACC opener 70-62 on Saturday. The Cavaliers start three guards, as do the Yellow Jackets, and sometimes had four on the court versus the Wolfpack.
“We’ve gone with four guards in the past,” Bennett said. “There’s a risk that you take on the boards, but sometimes it can give you an advantage offensively.”
Guard Sylven Landesberg is averaging a team-high 17.0 points. He had 26 as a freshman in an 88-84 overtime win at Georgia Tech on Dec. 28, 2008, the teams’ only matchup last season.
The Yellow Jackets lead the series 38-30.