Dome strikes again

ATLANTA - Georgia Tech has made a habit of making life tough on ACC opponents this year.

Despite the fact the Yellow Jackets won only two games in league play, they lost a handful of contests in the final seconds while making life miserable for some of the upper-echelon teams- and even beat No. 4 Wake Forest in January.

Thursday afternoon in the first round of the ACC Tournament was no different.

In fact, Tech gave No. 18 Clemson all it could handle and then some, upsetting the Tigers, 86-81.

"We handled their pressure all year really well," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said afterwards. "Oglesby hit a bunch of three's in the first game and then the second game Booker went off on us. The difference is this time we made our free throws down the stretch."

"Their pressure never bothered us."

Tech advances on to play Florida State Friday at 2:00 PM in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament while Clemson will now wait until Sunday to see who it will play in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament.

After Thursday's loss, the Tigers will likely be no higher than a six seed having lost four of their last five games.

"That was a very disheartening loss for us," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "We simply have to play better on the defensive end to beat teams at this level. We gave them far too many offensive rebounds. Too many layups and a result they shot too high of a percentage.

"We really didn't come out in the second half with the same edge or energy as Georgia Tech. They were at home in their home city and they played like it."

The game was back and forth for most of the first half, with Georgia Tech jumping out to an early 10-2 lead before the Tigers came roaring back to move ahead by five.

But Tech tied it at halftime at 39 and seemed to have momentum building in its direction. Indeed it did, as the Yellow Jackets went an 8-0 run in just under two minutes to build a lead they would never relinquish.

Lewis Clinch drilled a three-pointer from the left side on Tech's first possession and the Tigers would never be closer than that three-point margin after that. Clinch ended up scoring a career-high 32 points on 11-of-20 shooting helping Tech shoot 55 percent for the game, and 60 percent in the second half.

"They wanted it more than we did," senior captain K.C. Rivers said. "We didn't give it our all. Down the stretch they executed well and made shots. We didn't and they prevailed and won the game."

The Tigers also struggled on offense, failing to convert during long stretches and only connecting on 9-of-17 free throws.

Tech eventually built a double-digit lead with 4:03 left to play at 75-62 before a wild sequence of turnovers and three pointers allowed Clemson to get back in it.

After another Clinch three-pointer gave the Jackets their largest lead of the game, the Tigers immediately responded with a K.C. Rivers three-pointer to pull back within 10.

Following a Georgia Tech turnover, the Tigers continued to chip away as Andre Young, Rivers and Oglesby all connected from long range to pull Clemson within four at 82-78 with 52 seconds left.

After forcing a Georgia Tech turnover, David Potter spotted Booker with inside position under the basket, but Booker was fouled while going to the rim.

He promptly missed both attempts and the wind seemed to fall out of the Tigers' comeback sails.

Booker was asked afterwards if the team's depth perception was altered because it was playing in a dome for the first time. He responded, "I don't know what it was. All I know is we missed a bunch of free throws, myself included. We work on it all the time. They just didn't go down."

A series of turnovers, a missed layup and two three-pointers kept Clemson's hopes barely alive after that, but Tech made its free throws down the stretch to send the Tigers to a loss.

Clemson was led by Booker with 17 points and nine rebounds. Rivers, Stitt, Oglesby ad Sykes all added 11.

There's something about the Georgia Dome that simply doesn't seem to work in Clemson's favor. Before it was football, where the Tigers have lost five of their last six games, including their last outing against Alabama last August, in which the Tigers entered as favorites but were beaten soundly.

Now it appears it has carried over to the hardwood.

Thursday's game was Clemson's first-ever basketball game in the Dome, and it won't be remembered fondly, especially after last year's run to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte.

Still, even though they haven't played well down the stretch, the Tigers are on their way to their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

But if they are to advance, something has to change. The Tigers have struggled in recent weeks and are now 7-8 since starting the season 16-0.

"It's frustrating," Oglesby said. "We haven't played as a team since Maryland. Defensively we are not into it like we should be, ofensively we are not moving the ball like we should be and the frustration leaks over to all the guys.

"We need to step up and play together."

Clemson's first-round opponent and seeding will be announced Sunday at 6:30.

GAME NOTES: Jerai Grant started in place of Raymond Sykes for the first time all year. Purnell said afterwards it was because of his good play down the stretch of the regular season and also against Georgia Tech in two previous meetings. ... Georgia Tech outscored Clemson 33-15 on fast break points and also 42-38 in the paint. Tech also outrebounded the Tigers 38-30.

CUTigers.com Top Stories