ATLANTA (AP)—Isma’il Muhammad knocked the ball away near the baseline, but couldn’t come up with the steal. He didn’t stop there, chasing a Virginia player all the way to the midcourt line, where the relentless hounding finally caused a turnover.
Muhammad clapped his hands and smiled. Georgia Tech was back to its old ways.
The 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets, inserting Muhammad and two other new starters into the lineup, snapped a two-game losing streak with a stifling 75-57 victory over Virginia on Thursday night.
“I think the team fed off our energy,” Muhammad said. “We had the same feeling we had back when we were 12-0.”
The Yellow Jackets (13-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) bounced back from losses at Georgia and North Carolina, which put a damper on the best start in school history.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt shook up his lineup, giving Muhammad, Clarence Moore and Will Bynum their first starts of the season.
Those three had been providing a spark off the bench. Hewitt wanted them to make an impact from the beginning, mindful of the Yellow Jackets starting sluggishly in the last two games.
“Certainly Will and Isma’il, with their energy early in the game, got us off to a pretty good start,” Hewitt said. “That’s what I was concerned about. The last two games, we started out pretty passive and weren’t attacking.”
The changes were rather startling. Marvin Lewis came off the bench for only the fifth time in 107 career games. B.J. Elder had started 42 of 44 games over the last two seasons.
“It’s different,” Lewis said. “But Coach always tells us it’s not who starts, it’s who finishes.”
It all seemed to work. Muhammad sparked the Yellow Jackets in the first half with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting. Lewis led the Yellow Jackets with 17 points, hitting three shots from 3-point range. Elder scored 16 points in only 19 minutes before fouling out.
“I told them there are going to be times when we shuffle the lineup around,” Hewitt said. “Any combination of those guys can start. So that wasn’t a surprise, and I think that’s one of the reasons Marvin and B.J. handled it so well.”
Virginia (10-4, 0-3) began the season with eight straight wins but has struggled since getting into the tougher part of its schedule.
“We’ve got to be more physical,” coach Pete Gillen said. “That’s a choice. We’re just not as aggressive as we need to be.”
Georgia Tech focused on shutting off the inside, having been burned by Georgia’s Jonas Hayes (25 points) and North Carolina’s Sean May (28)
Virginia center Elton Brown was hounded with double teams and a sagging perimeter defense, which held him to 10 points. Georgia Tech dominated the lane, outscoring the Cavaliers 34-16.
“The whole game I saw people coming at me,” Brown said. “I couldn’t even take bad shots with four guys on me.”
Virginia started quickly, doing nearly all its scoring from the outside. The Cavaliers missed only once in their first eight shots from beyond the arc.
It didn’t last. Virginia missed its final 13 attempts from 3-point range.
The Cavaliers also had trouble handling the ball against Georgia Tech’s intense pressure, committing 12 turnovers in the first half. Virginia, which had been leading the ACC at just 12.4 per game, surpassed that figure early in the second half and wound up with 21 turnovers.
“Our whole problem is when we get down by four or five points, we panic,” Brown said. “Basketball is a long game. You have to be patient.”
Todd Billet had 12 points for Virginia, which shot just 35 percent (16-of-46) from the field.
Georgia Tech took control with an 11-1 run to end the first half. Muhammad sliced through the lane to bank in a shot with 4 seconds remaining and the Yellow Jackets went to the locker room with a 41-30 lead.
Virginia never got closer than eight in an ugly second half. Consecutive 3s by Moore and Lewis gave Georgia Tech a commanding 56-39 lead with 14 minutes left.
The Yellow Jackets have dominated the series with Virginia, winning the last four meetings and 15 of 18.
“After two losses,” Lewis said, “we just had to get back to playing Georgia Tech basketball.”