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Close-knit Jackets eke out another close win

Close-knit Jackets eke out another close win

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Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - When the final buzzer sounded, the entire Georgia Tech team rushed together to pile into a group hug on the floor.

How fitting.

With top scorer B.J. Elder hobbled by a badly sprained ankle, someone else had to step up. Jarrett Jack and the rest of the Yellow Jackets did better than that, beating Kansas 79-71 in overtime Sunday to advance to their first Final Four since 1990.

"A lot was on the line," said Jack, who scored eight of his career-high 29 points in overtime. "B.J. being out, we all knew we had to step up. I just really got it going and kept attacking until the game was over."

No team had more tight games on its road to the Final Four than the third-seeded Yellow Jackets. Their first three games in the St. Louis Regional were decided by a total of 13 points.

But Georgia Tech (27-9) has been unflappable all season, beating Connecticut when the Huskies were ranked No. 1 and winning at Duke and Wake Forest. So facing the favored Jayhawks, even without Elder, was no big deal. Even when the game went to overtime.

After little Will Bynum hit a big 3-pointer to break a 71-all tie, Jack went 4-for-4 from the line in the last 47 seconds to seal the win.

Jack finished 8-of-12 from the floor, and had nine rebounds and six assists. Luke Schenscher added 15 points and Clarence Moore matched his season high with 14 for the Yellow Jackets.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, coach Paul Hewitt threw his hands in the air in triumph and a wide grin spread across his face. The Yellow Jackets poured onto the court and into a pile when the buzzer sounded. Elder's teammates tried to lift him up, but they couldn't get him off the ground as the impromptu mosh pit bopped around.

The Yellow Jackets will now face second-seeded Oklahoma State on Saturday in San Antonio.

"A lot of basketball teams across the country are close on the court, but off the court they go their separate ways," said Isma'il Muhammad, who took the charge in overtime that gave Keith Langford has fifth foul. "This team, we all stick together and do things together.

"We're very close on the court and off the court and I think that contributes to our success."

Fourth-seeded Kansas (24-9) could do little but watch the Georgia Tech lovefest with disappointment, denied a third straight trip to the Final Four.

But these Jayhawks didn't play like a Final Four team. They shot 40 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 15 times. Wayne Simien, who'd been averaging 20 points in the tournament, was held to 11 on 4-of-14 shooting. Langford scored 15 on 4-of-11.

It was the Jayhawks' first loss in a regional final since March 26, 1996, when they lost to Syracuse.

"It's disappointing, but that's how it is," Langford said. "We knew they don't automatically put you in there. We'll go back, take care of our wounds and get ready for next year."

Though Georgia Tech was seeded one spot better, it came into the game as an underdog. The Jayhawks had the experience and the momentum, having won their first three tournament games by 22 points.

They even had a domeful of fans, playing just five hours away from their campus in Lawrence, Kan.

As if that wasn't enough, the Yellow Jackets were playing with a gimpy Elder. Elder, who averaged a team-high 15.8 points, severely sprained an ankle in Friday night's regional.

He started, but was limping and couldn't run close to full speed.

"I felt in warmups that I wouldn't be able to go very long," said Elder, who played only 12 minutes and had one assist. "I did what I could. I made a couple of passes. I got a couple of rebounds. I just had to leave it up to the other guys."

And they got it done.

"I take my hat off to Georgia Tech," said Kansas' Aaron Miles. "Jarrett Jack made a lot of plays for them. Every time they needed something, boom! He was there for them."

Copyright © 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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