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Georgia Tech men struggling without true home court

ATLANTA -- Few fans are showing up to see Georgia Tech, which has fallen to last place in the ACC in its season without a true home court.

Only 5,009 saw Georgia Tech's 64-49 loss to Miami Tuesday night at Philips Arena, one of two temporary home courts this season while the school's on-campus arena is being rebuilt.

There was a solid turnout of more than 9,000 for a visit from Duke. Attendance has been below 6,000 for every other home game.

The Yellow Jackets, who play at No. 7 North Carolina Sunday, have lost four straight and eight of nine with first-year coach Brian Gregory.

Associate athletic director Wayne Hogan said Wednesday fans and the administration knew this would be a tough season -- on the court and in the stands.

Hogan said it hasn't been easy to juggle home games at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, about 30 minutes north of the campus, and Philips Arena, the downtown Atlanta home of the NBA's Hawks.

"It's been a challenge but nothing worse than we expected by any means," Hogan said. "I would almost have to say it has gone smoother than we expected from an operational standpoint. The attendance has been off a bit although it's not so far off what our projections were."

According to the ACC, Georgia Tech's average of 4,455 for home games ranks 10th in the league, ahead of Boston College (4,446) and Miami (3,679).

Hogan said the Yellow Jackets have had some scheduling challenges the school couldn't control. Tuesday night's game was the second 9 p.m. tipoff for TV -- a difficult sell for families with children.

"That's tough in the best of circumstances, getting our people to go downtown that late," he said, adding a rare Saturday home game against Duke could have drawn a bigger crowd if not for a noon tipoff.

"That's a factor, especially when you're not winning many games," Hogan said.

"I sense that everybody just kind of gets it and understands, from Brian and the staff and the team to the fans. I think the fans really appreciate what Brian is bringing to the table and understand the deck he was dealt. I don't think anybody felt he was going to challenge for an ACC championship."

Georgia Tech (8-12 overall, 1-5 ACC) has played some of its best games on the road. It won at Georgia on Dec. 7 and ended a four-game losing streak with its only conference win at N.C. State on Jan. 11.

Since then, the struggles have resumed, including an ugly 70-38 home loss to Virginia last week.

Gregory has juggled his lineup in his search for a winning combination. He moved Glen Rice Jr. and Jason Morris into the starting lineup against Miami.

"We were hoping to maybe get off to a better start, and seeing if those guys could help us do that," Gregory said.

Instead, Miami led 35-22 at halftime. Rice and Morris combined to make only 1 of 12 shots from the field in the first half.

Rice had a strong second half to finish with 13 points. Morris did not score.

"I thought Jason, even though he was 0 for 7, took some good shots," Gregory said. "He just missed some shots that down the road he'll be able to put in. We've just got to keep trying different things and see if they respond differently."

Freshman forward Julian Royal had 11 points and five rebounds off the bench. He continues to earn increased playing time.

"He's been a bright spot all year long, to be honest with you," Gregory said of Royal. "He's playing more minutes. He's really engaged out there, really wants to get better and very coachable. He's starting to pick up some things and ask some good questions."

Rice said the players' outlook remains positive.

"We're good," Rice said. "We know we've got to get to the next game. There's nothing we can do about what happened in the past. We're going to get in there, practice hard like we've been doing and I think it'll turn around."

Georgia Tech finished 13-18 overall and 5-11 in the ACC last season. The school hired Gregory from Dayton after firing Paul Hewitt, who then was hired by George Mason.

The Yellow Jackets lost their top scorer, Iman Shumpert, and two other starters from Hewitt's last team.

Georgia Tech is 0-5 at Philips Arena, which will be the home of the ACC tournament on March 8-11.

Hogan said he hopes the facility will feel more like a home court by March.

"I think we have some games left with reasonable start times and we'll see some good crowds," Hogan said. "Of course we're building up to the ACC tournament. It will be our home court.

"Hopefully we will have won a game there by then."