Ramblin' Wreck latest to take best shot at Duke

Freshman DeMarcus Nelson has been forced to contend with other ACC squads' best efforts nightly.

Freshman DeMarcus Nelson has been forced to contend with other ACC squads' best efforts nightly.

By Alex Fanaroff The Chronicle

Durham, NC (U-WIRE) -- When you are a Duke basketball player, teams are always gunning to knock you off. Georgia Tech, which is fighting to finish its ACC schedule with a winning record, will try to knock off Duke at home for the first time since 1995.

It's times like these that playing Duke basketball is like fighting an uphill battle.

In the past four weeks, the Blue Devils have fought tough bouts against rival North Carolina at home, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and Maryland and Wake Forest both in Cameron and on the road.

Unexpectedly, the second-easiest contest in the eight-game stretch was an 82-65 victory against Georgia Tech Feb. 5, as the Blue Devils took advantage of a struggling and undermanned Yellow Jackets squad.

After weeks of dogging it out, how tough must it be to get up for another conference rematch?

"As a basketball player it's actually easier to play a game like [those] than a game against a pushover," forward Lee Melchionni said. "The ACC's so tough, so every night's going to be a fight."

Tonight's game poses yet another unique challenge for No. 7 Duke (19-4, 9-4 in the ACC) as the team travels to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech (15-8, 6-6) at 7 p.m. The Yellow Jackets have underachieved this season after advancing to last season's national championship game, and Georgia Tech will approach this game with a level of desperation.

Among the reasons for Georgia Tech's early struggles was the absence of senior guard/forward B.J. Elder. Before returning from a hamstring injury Feb. 13 against N.C. State, Elder had not played in a single conference game.

The senior sharp-shooter proved Feb. 21 at Florida State that he was ready to return to his All-ACC form of a year ago. His 22 points included three baskets from behind the arc in the first half and two game-winning free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining.

"They're a different team with B.J. Elder back," Melchionni said. "He's one of the better players in the country and they're more potent on offense and more confident when he's playing."

In the new ACC Tournament format, the top five teams in the conference will receive byes into the second round, while the bottom six teams will be forced to play Thursday and face the challenge of winning four games in as many days to earn the automatic NCAA bid.

"We still feel like we have a chance to finish in the top five," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "[Defeating Florida State was] an important victory but what we need to do now is to build on the momentum that we gained from that game."

The Yellow Jacket offense is led by a trio of talented perimeter players, including Elder, sixth man Will Bynum and junior Jarrett Jack. It is Jack who runs the show from the point guard position, leading the team in points per game, minutes played, three-point field-goal percentage, assists per game and steals.

"When they talk about the best players in the country... I know I'm biased, but how can this guy not be mentioned?" Hewitt said. "There's not a whole lot Jarrett Jack can't do."

In the frontcourt, 7-foot Australian Luke Schenscher has been disappointing after last year's breakout season, but remains a talented passer with good moves around the basket. Forward Isma'il Muhammad is the Yellow Jackets' best on-the-ball defender and most athletic player, and guard/forward Anthony McHenry provides versatility on the defensive end.

Freshmen Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Ra'Sean Dickey add youthful depth off the bench. Morrow is a reliable three-point shooter, while Smith and Dickey provide toughness and athleticism inside.

"I think its pretty well known now that when they walk into somebody else's building the home team feels like 'This is our chance,'" Hewitt said. "That's what I admire about the Duke players, because they have to face that type of intensity and ferocity every game and they go out and win games."

(C) 2004 The Chronicle via U-WIRE

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