By winning the Preseason National Invitation Tournament and getting off to the best start in school history with a 12-0 record, Georgia Tech carved out an early spot as an up-and-coming, Atlantic Coast Conference power destined to get out and stay out of the league's second division.
And by defeating No. 10 Wake Forest, 73-66, in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Tuesday night, the 11th-ranked Yellow Jackets served further notice that their emergence is quite real.
Georgia Tech (15-2, 3-1 ACC) needed that victory to traverse one more obstacle. The Yellow Jackets finally proved to themselves they could win on the road against a top-flight opponent. Tech stopped Wake's 24-game winning streak at home by holding the Demon Deacons to a season-low 66 points.
The road had been cruel to Georgia Tech during coach Paul Hewitt's previous three seasons, which included an 8-25 mark on hostile courts. Last season, the Yellow Jackets were 2-11 on the road, including a 1-7 road mark in ACC play.
Ten days after flopping in their first league game this season at then-No. 12 North Carolina and nearly three weeks after losing their first game in double overtime at Georgia, the Yellow Jackets shut down a fine team in Wake and shut up its crowd.
"Last year, we would play 30 good minutes some nights [on the road], and we just wouldn't finish strong," said Hewitt, recalling as an example a 67-66 loss at North Carolina last season in which the Yellow Jackets coughed up a five-point lead in the final 30 seconds.
"Part of it was not making a play, or not being smart. Part of it was conditioning. This year, even after the Carolina game [a 103-88 loss], I wasn't worried at all. With the way we've been playing, it wasn't much of a concern. Guys were real upset after Georgia and Carolina. They definitely have that feeling. They expect to play better."
No wonder. The Yellow Jackets have all of the parts needed to stay in contention for an ACC title and a high seed in the NCAA tournament. Sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack is one of the league's most physical defenders and gifted passers. Guards B.J. Elder and Marvin Lewis are constant scoring threats. Junior forward Isma'il Muhammad is maybe the league's most explosive finisher.
Then there's junior guard Will Bynum, the latest addition. Originally recruited heavily by Tech, Bynum signed with Arizona, then after three semesters, came to Atlanta last winter. He became eligible after seven games and has put a charge into the Yellow Jackets' offense.
In the past week, Bynum rained a career-high 25 points on Maryland, then did in Wake with a 20-point performance.
In his past five games, Bynum is averaging 15.4 points and 2.8 assists. He is a solid backup point guard who allows Elder to concentrate on scoring. Bynum also has started occasionally with Jack, giving Tech a pair of excellent ball-handlers who can shoot and drive to the basket.
"There's a good chance we don't win the Maryland or the Wake game without Will," Hewitt said.
UM's Williams irked
Maryland coach Gary Williams was upset by the Terps' lack of hustle and work ethic more than anything after Duke's 68-60 victory on Wednesday night at Comcast Center, where Maryland gave up 10 steals while recording just one and got out-rebounded by 14 on the offensive glass.
But the Terps' tendency to lose the ball on offense has been eating at their coach for some time. As if Maryland doesn't have enough problems running its half-court set with questionable shot selection and missed open shots, the Terps have been a turnover factory at times. Through four ACC games, Maryland has 50 assists and 81 miscues.
Maryland is ranked seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio in the conference and has more turnovers (236) than assists (227).
"We've been a great passing team. We're not this year. I take a lot of pride in how you're supposed to play this game," Williams said.
"We've had a lot of turnovers trying to make great passes. We have the ability. We don't have the experience of playing against some guys who are so quick [on defense], you think you've got a guy open, but by the time you pass it, [the opening] is not there. When you get to college, everybody is quick."
Duhon key for Duke?
J.J. Redick, who scored a season-high 26 points against Maryland, is a dead-eye shooter. Fellow guard Daniel Ewing is not far behind. Freshman forward Luol Deng can play three positions and has a floor game destined for the NBA. Sophomore forward Shelden Williams is among the league's most improved players. Each is averaging double figures in scoring.
But Maryland coach Gary Williams thinks senior point guard Chris Duhon is the main reason Duke is No. 1 and the lone unbeaten team left in the ACC. Duhon ranks second in the conference in assists (7.2 ppg) and is committing just 2.8 turnovers a game.
"To me, Duhon has been the key to Duke this year," Williams said. "He's gone through a lot of things in his career. He's a senior who has figured some things out. He's playing more like Bobby Hurley than Jason Williams, and that's probably the best way for him to play."