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March 13, 2010
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Georgia Tech took the difficult, windy route, but coach Paul Hewitt has his talent-laden team where many felt it should be: the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Just overlook all those maddening turnovers and blown leads.
Overcoming another near second-half meltdown, the Yellow Jackets ended NC State's surprise run in this ACC tournament full of upsets with a 57-54 victory on Saturday in the semifinals.
With freshman Derrick Favors contributing 17 points and eight rebounds, fellow NBA prospect Gani Lawal posting a double-double and highly touted guard Iman Shumpert making another key defensive play late, the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets (22-11) advanced to Sunday's final against top-seeded and No. 4 Duke.
Despite his team coughing up a 10-point halftime lead and looking rattled against the press in the second half, Hewitt was smiling after being a target of criticism for what some argue is serial underachieving.
Georgia Tech had recently tumbled out of the rankings and entered the tournament with five losses in seven games.
"The fans have been great, that's the one thing that has been consistent. There are other areas where some cheap shots have been taken," Hewitt said. "When I walk through the airports and go out to dinner with my family, you would be really shocked at how this stuff has turned. Now everybody goes out of their way to say, 'Hey coach, we respect what you're doing.'"
They may be a little louder now after Georgia Tech halted 11th-seeded NC State's dream of stealing the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
In a sloppy game where both teams showed the fatigue of playing for a third straight day, the Wolfpack made more mistakes down the stretch.
Tracy Smith had 15 points for NC State (19-15), which shot 31 percent. Javier Gonzalez had a chance to atone for a key turnover and intentional foul in the final 2 minutes, but he missed a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds.
"It's tough. We're hurting right now," Smith said. "Everybody's disappointed. We thought we had the game in our hands."
The Yellow Jackets reached the final for the first time since losing to Duke in 2005, and again can thank Shumpert's defense.
A day after knocking the ball away from Maryland's Greivis Vasquez to preserve Georgia Tech's upset win on Friday, Shumpert ripped the ball away from Gonzalez at midcourt with just over 2 minutes left and the Yellow Jackets ahead 49-46.
Shumpert passed to Favors, and Gonzalez grabbed his jersey from behind, spun him around and was called for an intentional foul with 1:29 left.
"I got hit a little bit on my arms, and I lost control of the ball," Gonzalez said. "They were about to score, and I saw Favors. He shoots like 50 percent (from the foul line), so the only thing I was able to do was grab a piece of jersey."
Officials had to separate players from both teams before Favors hit 1 of 2 free throws. On the ensuing possession, Favors scored inside to make it 52-46.
"Obviously that affects the game. No question about it," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "Not just from the point standpoint, but just emotionally, them getting jacked up, everyone is jumping around like their 6-10 guy just got killed or something by a 6-foot kid."
NC State wasn't finished, and Gonzalez hit a 3-pointer with 12.4 seconds left to cut the lead to 55-54. But Georgia Tech's D'Andre Bell then hit two free throws, and Gonzalez's 3 from the right wing bounced off the rim.
"Favors backed up a little bit, and I had enough room to get it off," Gonzalez said. "I got it off, but I missed."
Gonzalez had nine points, but was just 3 of 14 from the field. Dennis Horner (2 for 12) also struggled to make shots, leaving the Wolfpack hoping for an NIT bid.
"I certainly feel that we deserve it, no question," Lowe said. "I think they've shown that they're capable of playing with the best teams in the country."
Georgia Tech, likely safely in the NCAA tournament, didn't look the part of a top team for much of the second half in blowing a 29-19 halftime lead. With the Yellow Jackets abandoning the inside game and throwing the ball away in the backcourt, Gonzalez hit consecutive 3s in a 17-4 run gave NC State its first lead of the game.
But Favors, Lawal (12 points and 10 rebounds), Shumpert (seven points, seven rebounds) and Bell (6 of 6 free throws) did just enough to overcome 16 turnovers.
"Unfortunately, we've been very inconsistent because we've inconsistently gotten the ball inside," Bell said. "Just doing what we know, playing to our strength, and we'll be fine."