ALBANY -- After a shaky start to the season, Albany Tech's men have peaked at the right time and it can be attributed to an improved defense.
It's played a huge role while the Titans won seven of their final 10 regular-season games. When the NJCAA Region XVII tournament begins today, the fourth-seeded Titans will host a team they have faced with mixed results -- No. 5 seed and defending region tournament champion South Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. today at Albany State. The winner plays at top-seeded Middle Georgia at 7 p.m. Friday in Cochran.
Coincidentally, today's game between Albany Tech and South Georgia Tech will be a rematch of last year's tournament semifinal game that the Jets won, 75-71.
The Titans ended the regular season tied for third with Georgia Perimeter, but a tiebreaker relegated them to fourth. If there's an advantage today, Albany Tech has it since both teams won on their home courts (the Jets won, 85-73, and the Titans won, 64-63). And if there has been a common theme for Albany Tech during the past 10 games, it's holding opponents to fewer than 70 points.
"They're playing hard," Titans coach Sylvester Patterson said. "They're good at playing team defense, the guys now believe they can play anybody."
One of the Titans' top defenders, Romero Owens, feels team chemistry has helped things come together.
"With our chemistry better than it was at the first of the season, everybody has picked it up," Owens said. "We're more focused on the court, knowing where we need to be."
Albany Tech will have a strong local presence in the game with ex-Monroe star Wilbur Lake (12 points per game) and ex-Westover star Dominique Polite (12 points, 9.9 rebounds), both of whom were named Second Team All-Region.
Owens, who often is put on the opposing team's top scorer, will likely defend the Jets' Rearkus McCrory -- also a Second Team All-Region pick -- today. McCrory, who was a key player during last year's postseason for the Jets, is averaging 15.5 points.
"I hope another key is that since we have some sophomores from last year, that experience could help us and at least even the advantage Albany Tech has playing at home," said South Georgia Tech coach Steven Wright, whose team is 14-15.
Defense, however, is what Patterson feels will be vital against the Jets.
"We have a lot of confidence going into the tournament," Patterson said. "If we play defense like we've been playing, we should be OK."