When the game necessitated winning plays, Georgia Tech stumbled once again.
Trying for back-to-back ACC wins for the first time since the end of the 2013-14 season, the Yellow Jackets came up short. They lost to Clemson 66-52 on Saturday afternoon at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Whether it was a turnover on offense, failure to secure a defensive rebound on defense or another lapse of focus, the Jackets gave in just enough times to give a beatable Clemson team sufficient room for victory.
“We all have to play with more grit,” guard and captain Marcus Georges-Hunt said.
With the loss, Tech (13-12, 3-9 ACC) assured that it will not have a winning season in the ACC for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons. Clemson (15-10, 8-5) has beaten Tech 11 consecutive times on its home court. (Clemson is playing its home games in Greenville this season with Littlejohn Coliseum under renovation.) Forward Charles Mitchell led Tech with his 14th double-double of the season, scoring 11 points with a career-high 19 rebounds.
Here are five observations from the game:
Costly lapse before halftime
Tech led by as many as eight in the first half, but gave up a 10-3 run in the final 2:11 that left the Jackets in a 37-32 hole at halftime.
The final basket was painful. After two free throws by Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame put the Tigers up 35-32 with 4.4 seconds left, forward Quinton Stephens attempted to inbound the ball to Georges-Hunt, but Clemson guard Jordan Roper stole the pass and made a jumper as time expired for a 37-32 lead, the Tigers’ largest lead of the game to that point.
Besieged on defensive glass
Clemson scored 21 second-chance points, as many as the Jackets have allowed in a game in the past four seasons, on 15 offensive rebounds. The Tigers are not an exceptional offensive rebounding team (they entered the game 12th in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage), and Tech is strong at protecting the defensive glass, but Clemson played with more energy and won 50-50 balls to keep possessions alive. Blossomgame, from Chattahoochee High, said the Tigers practiced 5-on-7 to prepare for Tech’s rebounding tenacity.
“It just comes down to putting your body on somebody,” Stephens said.
Tech gave up a critical basket when Mitchell failed to block out center Landry Nnoko on a missed Clemson free throw, giving the Tigers a 57-50 lead with 4:29 to play.
Lost opportunities on offense
Tech turned the ball over 13 times, which was far too many given that Clemson was playing so strong on defense. In the second half, when the Jackets were laboring to make baskets while trying to rally, they further impeded themselves by turning the ball over seven times in 31 second-half possessions.
“We were kind of out of sorts a little bit,” coach Brian Gregory said. “We’re a team that doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, good assist-to-turnover ratio, and we were flipped (Saturday).”
When the game was lost
Down 48-46 with eight minutes to play, Tech had the ball and a chance to tie the score for the first time in the second half, but forward Nick Jacobs lost the ball going to the basket, leading to a transition basket for the Tigers. Guard Tadric Jackson lost the ball on the next possession, which led to another transition score for a six-point lead. After a Tech timeout, forward James White appeared to score on a putback but was called for over the back, sending Blossomgame to the free-throw line for a one-and-one. He made both for a 54-46 lead at the 6:29 mark. Tech didn’t get closer than five points the rest of the game.
Clear shots were at a premium in a matchup of two physical, defense-minded teams. Clemson did what Tech couldn’t, taking care of the ball, cashing in offensive rebounds and getting to the free-throw line. Further, Tech didn’t always appear to respond well to the circumstances.
“There were some times where we got caught; it seemed like our head was down for some reason,” Georges-Hunt said. “It looked like we were mad about something, and we were only down two points. So they out-toughed us in a way (Saturday).”