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The pressure's on for Hewitt, Jackets

ATLANTA — Georgia Tech is down to one last opportunity to salvage its season.

Athletic director Dan Radakovich wouldn't say Tuesday if the ACC tournament also is the last chance for coach Paul Hewitt to save his job.

Georgia Tech, coming off a disappointing seventh-place regular-season finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference, plays North Carolina on Thursday night in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

The disappointing 7-9 ACC record is the continuation of a downward trend since Hewitt took the Yellow Jackets to the 2004 Final Four. Hewitt has only one winning ACC record in 10 seasons, including five straight seasons of finishing sixth or lower in the league.

Radakovich said it's too early for him to evaluate the season or Hewitt's status.

"As has always been the case since I came to Georgia Tech, I will not get into a discussion regarding the evaluation of a program while there are still significant games to be played and goals yet to be reached," Radakovich said in an e-mail response to a question from The Associated Press.

Radakovich sent the same statement to other media outlets.

The program hit a low point last season with a last-place 2-14 finish in the ACC and an overall 12-19 mark, but optimism grew with the addition of a freshman class led by Derrick Favors. Favors was named ACC Rookie of the Year on Tuesday, but the 6-foot-10 forward's play wasn't enough as the Yellow Jackets closed the regular season with six losses in nine games.

It was a dismal regular-season finish for a Georgia Tech expected to contend for the ACC title.

With senior leader D'Andre Bell back after missing last season with an injury and top inside player Gani Lawal opting to return instead of entering the NBA draft, there was much talk from many — including Hewitt — that this could be Georgia Tech's season.

Said Hewitt before the season: "I think these guys know that if everything goes right, we have a chance to be as good as anyone in the ACC, and if you are as good as anyone in the ACC, then you can compete for anything that comes after that."

In a preseason vote of ACC media, Georgia Tech received two first-place votes while being picked fourth in the league. But after losing its last two games, Georgia Tech (19-11) is in danger of missing the NCAA tournament.

Radakovich said he'll be in Greensboro to "pull like heck" for the Yellow Jackets.

"I would encourage all of our fans who care about Georgia Tech to rally around these student-athletes and their coaches and to encourage their efforts throughout postseason play," Radakovich said. "There is still much to be gained. Any discussion beyond that will take place at the appropriate time — after the conclusion of the season."

Hewitt's contract includes a buyout of nearly $7 million, a significant factor even in a better economy.

Georgia Tech players say they've heard the growing speculation about Hewitt's status.

"Coach Hewitt, he's just preparing us for each game and getting us ready despite all the outside sources or rumors or whatever you hear," Lawal said before Tuesday's practice. "He's been doing his job diligently and that's all you can ask for.

"I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't hear it, didn't think about it. It's crazy. He's a great coach. It's a lot of times people who really don't know what they're talking about come down hard on him. Obviously he is the coach, he is the head coach and he's running things here, but it's not all his fault when things go wrong."

Senior Zachery Peacock said Hewitt "does a very good job of not breaking under the pressure."

"I don't feel like he feels it's pressure on him but as a team we all know that it is," Peacock said. "It's always tough being a head coach. When your team isn't performing good, it always tends to end up back on the coaching."

Georgia Tech has missed the last two NCAA tournaments and hasn't won a game in the NCAA tournament since 2005.

Hewitt said the Yellow Jackets must beat North Carolina "to have a realistic shot" to make the tournament.

"For this team to get to the tournament, we have to win this game, in order to give ourselves a chance," he said.

Hewitt said his advice to players is to focus on Thursday night's game and avoid the rumors and speculation.

"You can't worry about those things," he said. "You have to worry about playing good basketball so you can put yourself in a position to go to the tournament."