Guard gives Tech a chance in ACC
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Paul Hewitt remembers sitting at home a year ago, seeing an ESPN.com report that Arizona guard Will Bynum was likely heading to Oklahoma State.
For a few hours, that's what Oklahoma State and Arizona believed.
Unbeknownst to those two schools, Bynum had told Hewitt he was heading to Georgia Tech.
Hewitt still had to check. He was nervous that something had gone awry. So he called Bynum to make sure he was coming.
You can't miss Bynum now. He scored 25 points in a win over Maryland on Saturday. He scored a team-high 20 in Tuesday night's 73-66 win at Wake Forest -- the Yellow Jackets' most significant victory since beating Connecticut and Texas Tech in November to win the Preseason NIT in New York.
How significant was it? The Yellow Jackets were 2-11 on the road last season, with the only ACC road win coming at Virginia. The win over Wake Forest makes the Yellow Jackets, whose last road outing was a 103-88 pasting at North Carolina on Jan. 11, contenders instead of pretenders.
Bynum's arrival is the difference in Georgia Tech's chances of catching Duke for the ACC title. It's that simple. Without the junior guard, Georgia Tech still has a strong backcourt with B.J. Elder, Jarrett Jack, Marvin Lewis and Isma'il Muhammad. But none of them are playmakers who can create their own shot consistently off the dribble.
"We were lucky to get Will, very lucky," Hewitt said. "He's somebody we needed. He can do the things that the others can't like breaking guys down to get his shot."
The amazing thing is that Bynum wasn't eligible during the Preseason NIT. He had to sit the first seven games after transferring. Bynum went through the usual adjustment period, failing to get to double figures through his first five games. He scored 15 in a loss at Georgia, 13 in the loss at North Carolina but then was a nonfactor with only four points in the win over Virginia. However, something clicked in the last two games.
Bynum said he's feeling comfortable in the offense.
Jack said it's a result of some prodding.
"It took me yelling at him," Jack said. "The first couple of games, he wasn't comfortable. He was trying to find his niche. I was yelling at him to be more selfish and to look for himself more."
Tuesday, Bynum scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half to help the Yellow Jackets to a 45-43 halftime lead. He made 6 of 8 shots, 3 of 4 3-pointers. He was getting plenty of space to shoot, and if the shot wasn't there, he didn't hesitate to take his man to the basket.
"He's quick, quicker than he looks," said Wake Forest's freshman point Chris Paul, who was guarded extremely well and was limited to a mortal 1-for-6 outing. Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser had predicted Paul would have a tough baptism in the ACC.
And he added on Bynum, "We couldn't keep him in front of us."
"Will Bynum has so much confidence, and that makes us so mentally tough," said Hewitt of his guard who made 7 of 13 shots and 3 of 5 3s. "He is so mentally tough. He had to understand when to go and when not to go in our offense."
Bynum's offense is a product of his strength. He's 6 feet tall, but he's a tank at 185 pounds. The look of the guards is consistent at Georgia Tech. Hewitt said he looks for big guards, stocky, strong and aggressive wings. Elder is 6-4, 218. Muhammad is 6-6, 225. Lewis is 6-4, 205. Jack is 6-3, 198. Sure, the Yellow Jackets have 7-1 Luke Schenscher, 6-5 Clarence Moore and 6-9 Theodis Tarver rotating inside, but this team leans heavily on its guards.
"We've got big guards, strong guards, but they move their feet very well," Hewitt said.
Hewitt also looks for toughness. That's what he had when he was an assistant at Villanova with players such as Kerry Kittles and John Celestand. He took that approach to Siena. And he's recruiting the same way at Georgia Tech.
The strength of the guards isn't just physical. This team is tough, kind of like Pittsburgh in the Big East. The road win Tuesday proved that its earlier success wasn't a fluke even though doubts were natural after the Yellow Jackets lost the previous two road games.
Georgia Tech still gets North Carolina at home. The Yellow Jackets haven't played Duke home or away yet. This win proves they are a player in the ACC, making them 3-1 in the league for the first time since 1995-96.
"The outside people can say we're for real now," Hewitt said. "In here [the locker room] after the Carolina game, they were really upset with themselves. They were pissed. They didn't understand how they could go out there and play like that. But we took care of the home games [wins over Virginia and Maryland] and then did this tonight." Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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