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William F. Reed
April 02, 1990
Georgia Tech—and guard Brian Oliver (13)—soared into the Final Four with Duke, Arkansas and UNLV
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April 02, 1990

High Drive

Georgia Tech—and guard Brian Oliver (13)—soared into the Final Four with Duke, Arkansas and UNLV

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This isn't to say that Georgia Tech's inside game is as weak as a strip-joint cocktail on Bourbon Street, but it's a fact that the Yellow Jackets won the Southeast Regional in the Louisiana Superdome on Sunday by showing that three (outstanding perimeter players) plus one (lucky break) can indeed equal Final Four, as in a trip to Denver for a date with fearsome Nevada-Las Vegas in Saturday's national semifinals. The other semi will match Duke, which qualified for Denver by the skin of its teeth with—what was it?—about a second to spare, and Arkansas, which somehow enjoyed a home court advantage playing Texas in Dallas.

To be honest, though, the Yellow Jackets got the break of the tournament. Last Friday against Michigan State, the officials allowed a desperation, game-tying jumper by Georgia Tech's freshman sensation, Kenny Anderson, that apparently was shot after time had expired. Following that reprieve, the Yellow Jackets pulled out an 81-80 overtime victory to advance the regional final against surprising Minnesota, an 82-75 winner over sluggish Syracuse.

This time Georgia Tech didn't need any help. In a 93-91 victory over the Gophers, the Yellow Jackets' prolific perimeter triumvirate of Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver poured in 89 points and took 52 of the team's 56 shots. Yet Georgia Tech couldn't celebrate until Minnesota's Kevin Lynch missed a three-pointer under heavy pressure at the buzzer.

That's when Tech coach Bobby Cremins opened his sport coat and kissed the shamrock that he had pinned inside it in honor of his father, a former New York longshoreman and doorman who died last December. "This is the best team I've ever coached," said Cremins.

Cremins was noticeably subdued in the glow of victory. Once one of the sport's most driven coaches—he was despondent after his 1985-86 team, with guard Mark Price and center John Salley, was upset in the regional semifinals by LSU—Cremins took stock of himself last fall and decided that at 42, he needed a serious attitude adjustment. "I told him, 'Coach, you're never gonna change,' " said Oliver, a senior, but the players found him to be more laid back, which in turn helped them relax.

The change in Cremins coincided with the arrival of two new players. One was Anderson, the pencil-thin, ballyhooed point guard from New York City. The other was the 6'8" Scott, who reported for his junior season with a new body—having shed 20 pounds over the summer—and a new, more serious approach. Then, slyly, Cremins eliminated a potential jealousy problem between Scott and Anderson by assigning them to room together.

The idea worked out so well that Anderson praises Scott for taking a lot of the pressure off him ("I didn't have to come in and be Superman right away," he says), while Scott says, "He [ Anderson] is different from any New York point guard I've ever seen because he's not coming down the court dribbling behind his back and between his legs six times without going anywhere."

The third member of the trio, Oliver, suffered a stress fracture in his ankle early in the season, but he has played with pain and provided stability. Together, the three led Tech to the ACC tournament championship.

Their encounter with Big Ten champion Michigan State was a splendid game in which Anderson and the Spartans' 6'6" Steve Smith, a gangly junior, conducted a clinic on how to play guard. Michigan State seemed to have the game won with five seconds left and a 75-73 lead, but Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one. Georgia Tech's 6'9" Johnny McNeil, who joins 6'10" Malcolm Mackey in what passes for their team's inside game, rebounded and fired the ball to Anderson. After almost losing the ball at midcourt, Anderson angled to the top of the key and fired his last-second jumper.

Official John Clougherty gave the three-point signal as soon as the ball went through the basket, and the scoreboard flashed 76-75, an apparent Georgia Tech victory. However, another official, Charles Range, had seen Anderson's foot on the stripe. After the officials met briefly, the goal was changed to a two-pointer, sending the game into OT. But the more important question was whether or not Anderson had gotten off the shot in time. "The ball was out of my hands when I heard the buzzer," said Anderson. "I just didn't know if it was a three or a two."

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