By Doug Gorman
When the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets play Friday in the first-round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament against George Washington University, their key to victory could be stopping a player with ties to the Southern Crescent.
J.R. Pinnock, who began his career at Eagle's Landing High School before transferring to Coastal Christian Academy in Virginia for his senior season, is one of the Colonials' top offensive threats.
Pinnock spent most of the season coming off the bench for the Atlantic-10 Conference champions, but finished as the team's second leading scorer by averaging 13.5 points per game.
The sophomore was named the winner of the conference's sixth-man award as the league's best non-starter.
George Washington earned a spot to the NCAA tournament, and its first-round showdown against Georgia Tech, with a 76-67 victory against St. Joseph's in this weekend's Atlantic-10 tournament finals.
Tech and George Washington are grouped in the Albuquerque regional and will play their first-round game Friday night in Nashville.
Pinnock scored 15 points in the Atlantic-10 tournament finals, shooting 7-of-11 from the floor, including one shot from 3-point territory.
In the Atlantic-10 semifinals, Pinnock led George Washington with 16 points en route to a win against Temple.
The former Eagle's Landing standout has helped put the Colonials back on the college basketball map during his two seasons at George Washington.
Last season George Washington earned a berth to the NIT, but this will be the school's first trip to the NCAA tournament in six years.
"I just told our team, 'hey, it's our time," George Washington coach Karl Hobbs told the Associated Press after the team clinched the Atlantic-10 tournament championship.
Before Pinnock arrived on campus to help resurrect, George Washington's basketball team, it was the doormat of the Atlantic 10, suffering through losing seasons from 2001-2003.
This season, the Colonials posted a 22-7 record.
George Washington set the tone for its season in December beating both ACC foe Maryland and Big-10 opponent Michigan State on back-to-back days.
Pinnock came up big in both of those games, scoring 12 points in the victory against Michigan State and pouring in 22 points against Maryland.
At Eagle's Landing, Pinnock had some problems getting along with then head coach David Edginer, but rededicated himself to basketball and academics once he moved to Coastal Christian Academy.
As a high school senior, he averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds and was ranked among the 67th best player in the country by RivalsHoop.com. Virginiaprep.com ranked him the second best high school player in June 2002. George Washington comes into the tournament as a No.-12 seed in the Albuquerque regional.
, while Georgia Tech, the runners up in last year's NCAA tournament, earned a No.-5 seed by finishing second at the ACC tournament, falling to Duke in Sunday's tournament championship.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, George Tech was considered to be a team on the tournament bubble, but after easily beating Virginia Tech in the first-round of the ACC tournament on Friday, and upsetting top-ranked North Carolina on Saturday, the Yellow Jackets secured their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
Against Duke, Tech fell behind by 13 points in the second half, only to rally late in the game behind the play of junior point guard Jarrett Jack, who was playing the final minutes of the contest on a badly sprained ankle.
Jack still finished as Tech's leading scorer, finishing with 19 points in the Yellow Jackets' 69-64 loss to the Blue Devils.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt told the Associated Press he expects a tough game against George Washington.
"Karl Hobbs has done a great job resurrecting that program" said Hewitt.
I know they're going to play fast. I know early in the year when I saw them play Wake Forest, they pressed a little bit.