Another Tough Setback

CLEMSON – In a tight game with less than 10 minutes to play in the game, Clemson basketball coach Oliver Purnell waited for one of his veterans to take control and lead the team to victory, but neither happened. <BR>

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And during that time, the Tigers went scoreless for nearly six of the final seven minutes, which allowed Georgia Tech to pull away and get the 70-62 victory in front of a disappointing size crowd Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.

"This was one of those games where we didn't get good leadership and it's tough to depend on the young guys," Purnell said. "I never got the feeling that this game was there for us."

Since the start last month of Atlantic Coast Conference play, the one constant for Clemson has been the play of senior forward Sharrod Ford, who came into Tuesday night's game averaging 16 points and 9.4 rebounds in nine conference games.

However, against the Yellow Jackets, he was almost literally nowhere to be found.

Ford finished with just three points, zero rebounds and committed four turnovers in 27 minutes of play. It was the lowest output for Ford since he went scoreless against those very same Yellow Jackets in March of 2003. It was also his lowest rebound total since March of 2002.

He also failed to show for interview requests after the game.

"When things started going bad, I could see people were getting frustrated," said Clemson freshman forward James Mays, who was second on the team in scoring with 10 points. "Nobody stepped up and said, "Let's go!"

Purnell said the only upperclassman to even try was senior forward Olu Babalola, who scored 10 of his team-leading 12 points in the second half.

"I thought Olu tried," Purnell said. "But we've got other upperclassmen as well that needs to step up in that situation as well."

Georgia Tech (14-7, 5-5 ACC) didn't have that problem. In fact, the Yellow Jackets had quite a few try and take charge.

Jarrett Jack led Georgia Tech with 16 points, while teammates Isma'il Muhammad and Will Bynum each added 13. B.J. Elder, who hadn't played since hurting his hamstring on Jan. 1, chipped in with 11 points.

"It was nice to get B.J. Elder back out there and give us 11 big points," Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said. "He enabled us to keep Isma'il fresh as well as Will Bynum.

"We don't play again until Sunday and it gives us a chance to get B.J. healthy and get him some practice time."

Another aspect that let the Tigers down was their defense. Georgia Tech shot 57.8 percent from the game. Clemson shot 44.1 percent, including 37.9 percent in the second half.

"We didn't do what we strive on and that's defense and rebounding," Babalola said. "We talked about it at halftime, but when we don't do it, that's what happens."

Clemson also was just 6-of-26 from 3-point range and 4-of-12 from the free throw line. The Tigers also committed 13 turnovers in the second half.

The Tigers, which held a 35-27 lead at halftime, come out in the second half and committed four straight turnovers, which allowed Georgia Tech to pull within a basket.

It stayed tight before the Yellow Jackets took the lead on an Elder 3-pointer from the left baseline to make it 53-52 with 9:41 remaining to play.

And it was all downhill from there for the Tigers.

Clemson scored to cut the lead to 59-56 with 7:10 to go, but that was the last time the Tigers would score until 1:17 remained on the clock. But by that time, the Yellow Jackets had built an 11-point lead at 67-56.

The Tigers host Miami Saturday in a must-win situation. If they lose, making the postseason will be all but over.

"(Georgia Tech) was in the Final Four last year, so that proves to me we can play with anybody," Mays said. "I know (Ford) is going to come back against Miami and have a good night."

For the Tigers' sake, he better.

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