WASHINGTON, D.C. — Clemson saw an 18-point lead in the second half slip away and ultimately fell in overtime to Georgia Tech on Wednesday in the ACC Tournament. The loss dropped the Tigers to 17-14 on the season. The Yellow Jackets improved to 19-13 overall and move on to face No. 2 seed Virginia.
Jaron Blossomgame scored 22 to lead Clemson’s balanced offensive effort. Avry Holmes posted 19, his high against an ACC team. Sidy Djitte came off the bench to contribute 13 points, while Jordan Roper chipped in 10. The Tigers shot better overall (46 percent) and from three (34.5 percent) than Tech, but the Yellow Jackets got back in the game with tremendous foul shooting from All-ACC guard Marcus Georges-Hunt (15-16 free throws). He finished with a game-high 28, while Adam Smith added 23 for Brian Gregory's club.
The Tigers fell behind early but battled back to take a 14-13 lead seven minutes in. But Tech responded with a 6-0 run that included Smith’s third tightly contested jumper in the opening minutes. Clemson erased the deficit with its bench three-point production, courtesy of buckets by Ty Hudson and Gabe DeVoe.
Clemson’s cushion stretched to nine points at halftime, 40-31, when Donte Grantham rolled around a jumper after a nifty crossover dribble.
The fun continued early in the second half for the Tigers, who pushed their lead to 13 on a three-pointer in the corner by DeVoe. His long ball culminated a quick 5-0 run after the Yellow Jackets had cut into Clemson’s lead, making it 57-44. Holmes and Hudson followed suit inside the 10-minute mark to give the Tigers a big edge at 65-47. But that is when the tide changed dramatically for both teams.
Tech began its comeback by cutting the deficit to eight at 69-61, but Blossomgame stepped up out of a timeout. He drove the right side of the lane and finished for the three-point play, extended the margin back to double figures. In another key moment, Tech lost the ball but regained possession and found Adam Smith for a wing three. Georges-Hunt drove the ensuing trip and pulled his team within six at 74-68.
The senior showed poise down the stretch for Georgia Tech, making all but one of his free throw attempts. Clemson was clinging to a one-point lead when Blossomgame converted one of two with 19 seconds to go, but Georges-Hunt sent it to overtime after Djitte put him on the line with 13 ticks left. The Tigers were whistled for fouls on four straight possessions inside the final 80 seconds of regulation.Rebounding proved to be a backbreaker late in the game. Clemson fell victim to 19 offensive rebounds by the bigger Yellow Jackets, which turned into 21 points for Georgia Tech.
Clemson Post-Game PC:
Obviously a painful loss. Thought our guys played really well for 35 minutes of the game. Give the Georgia Tech kids and Brian credit. They kept playing, competing. You know, it's tough. Just down the stretch, we couldn't get any rebounds. It basically became a free throw contest. We just would watch them shoot free throws the last six minutes of the game. I think it's tough. I really think Jamie and Ramey and all those guys are good. But I think sometimes you get caught up in the moment. I don't know, I'm anxious to see if there weren't one or two that were tough calls against us that kind of kept the momentum going.
I thought our guys really competed, played well. But it's frustrating. We couldn't get rebounds. They made a lot of free throws down the stretch. That was the difference.
Q: What were you trying to get out of that last possession before overtime with 12 seconds left?
B.B.: We were running a little slip screen with J.B. and Avry. Avry had the option to kind of hesitate and go, or depending on if there was a mix-up, he could stop and throw it back to J.B. and then J.B. would go. Probably would have liked to have startede it one or two seconds earlier. Avry decided to go to the rim, draw contact, see if he could get a foul. Didn't get a call.
Q: What was the biggest thing they were able to take advantage of, in coming back from that far down against you guys?
B.B.: Rebounding and free throws. I mean, both teams combined to shoot three in the first half, and there were many in the second. Obviously that stops the clock, allows them to score with the clock stopped. You know, keep pressing, make more possessions in the game. Our inability to get rebounds, and their free throw shooting was the difference in the game.
Q: Do you think that all that free throw shooting took you out of your offensive rhythm?
B.B.: A little bit, I do. Just changed the complete flow of the game, the complexity of the game. It kind of just compounds. In those situations, you're already behind, or the other team is behind, so they're playing more aggressively. They're sending everybody to the glass. It really doesn't matter if they push you in the back and get a rebound. They're just in attack mode. And defensively, you're a little bit on your heels at times because of the fouls every possession. Sometimes it can compound itself.
Obviously in some ways we thought about going zone a couple times. Because of Adam Smith and his shooting ability, we weren't sure if that would be a good move. Hindsight, we probably should have tried it at least a little bit in the end.
Then, you know, you've lost all your momentum. You're just kind of getting the ball in against a press because there's a free throw, they're pressing, throws you a little bit out of rhythm. We had a few bad possessions, but we actually didn't have as many. J.B. got a couple in there in good places and didn't make 'em. We had a couple free throws we didn't make.
Our offense I don't htink was really the reason why we lost.
Q: Avry, obviously a heartbreaking loss, but you had a really good game with 19 points. What can you take away from this performance?
Holmes: I would have to say just stick as a team throughout the whole game. I feel like the whole entire game we were together, then we kind of shaded away at the end of the game.
Q: Avry, anything you could have done differently at that point? You said you laid back during that stretch.
Holmes: I don't know. They rhythm was just because they kept calling fouls. We got out of rhythm. They kept pressing. I tihnk it was just the rhythm at the end of the game.
Q: Brad, this program took some steps this year, showed some improvement. I know this isn't the way you wanted the conference season to end. What would it mean to get an NIT bid?
BB: It would mean a lot. I know everybody talks on balanced schedule and all those things. But we were 10-8, 7th seed in the tournament, actually tied for 6th with Virginia Tech. I certainly think we're tournament-worthy. It would be a good thing for this team to get to continue to play more. So yeah, we're very hopeful and optimistic that the league will make a good recommendation for us with what we did, especially in ACC play this year.