The last time that Georgia Tech took the court before Wednesday, the Yellow Jackets swamped Wake Forest in a game that gave hope to the idea that they had cleansed themselves of any remaining vestiges of their season-opening losses to Georgia State and Mercer. Seventeen nights later, having returned to McCamish Pavilion after four games postponed by COVID-19 protocols, Tech looked much like that same team.

Before a scattered but vocal assembly of Tech students and fans, the Jackets took apart No. 20 Clemson, outplaying and outhustling the Tigers in an 83-65 win. Playing unselfishly and with feistiness, Tech set season highs for field-goal percentage (57.4%), 3-point field-goal percentage (61.5%), and 3-pointers (16) while forcing 20 turnovers, one shy of the season high. The Jackets relied on the same strategy — efficient offense and turnover creation — that had propelled them prior to the pause.

“Obviously, coming off of a 17-day layoff, you don’t know how you’re going to be, but we really played well,” coach Josh Pastner said. “We played the right way.”

It was Tech’s largest margin of victory over Clemson since a 19-point win in February 2004. The 16 3-pointers were one shy of the school record (set against the Tigers in January 2001). Clearly, the Jackets emerged from their hiatus with a sense of urgency.

“We weren’t going to take anything for granted,” guard Michael Devoe said. “And we came out here like we don’t even know if we’re going to play Saturday. So we left it all on the floor, and we came out to play.”

Devoe led the Jackets with 22 points, including a flawless 6-for-6 shooting night from 3-point range. He set a school record for most 3-pointers without a miss, topping a 5-for-5 game by Tony Akins against Davidson in December 2001. He led the way in one of the greatest 3-point shooting games in team history.

“When you’re shooting like that, it’s a wonderful thing,” Devoe said. “Shooters love that. When you see your first one go in and they keep going in, it’s like throwing rocks into an ocean. You really can’t miss.”

Jordan Usher and Moses Wright scored 21 each as Pastner was able to empty out the bench at game’s end. Among scholarship players, only forward Khalid Moore did not get into the game. He was held out due to COVID-19 protocol, Pastner said after the game. He is expected to be available for Saturday’s game against No. 13 Virginia.

Dating back to last season, it was Tech’s third consecutive win over Clemson, which had won the previous five in the series. Tech improved to 7-3 overall and 3-1 in the ACC. The Tigers (9-3, 3-3), who were No. 12 a week ago, have lost their last two games by a combined 53 points. Further, it was the Jackets’ fifth win in a row, their longest winning streak since the 2012-13 season.

On paper, circumstances were in Clemson’s favor. Not only were the Jackets coming off their layoff, but Clemson brought one of the strongest defenses in the country to McCamish, one that ranked eighth in defensive turnover percentage (per KenPom) coming into the game. Further, Clemson had just come back from its own COVID-19 break and was likely smarting over a home blowout loss to Virginia on Saturday. Further, because of COVID-19 protocols, it wasn’t as though the Jackets had spent the entire break practicing together – the team had to gradually work up to contact practices. Not ideal conditions for a team likely to be shaking off rust.

However, Tech appeared to be only minimally impacted by the break, if at all. In the Jackets’ first four possessions, Wright hit a 3-pointer and scored on two dunks. The ball moved crisply and players flowed without the ball. They were aggressive to 50-50 balls, fought through screens and played in unison. Against a team that relies on forcing turnovers, the Jackets had only two turnovers in the first half and 10 for the game.

“Clemson came in here ranked high on defense,” Usher said. “We didn’t let that affect us. We punched them in the mouth. That’s how I like to play.”

Credit: ACC

The Jackets defeated No. 20 Tigers 83-65 - its largest margin of victory over Clemson since a 19-point win in February 2004.

Guard Bubba Parham was a tone-setter. The 5-foot-10 guard took at least three charges and gave his body to win rebounds and loose balls, once leaping between two Clemson players to secure an offensive rebound and get fouled in the process. While he only scored one point, Pastner singled him out in post-game comments.

“He just played at a high level defensively,” Pastner said of Parham. “You cannot put a price tag on what that means when guys are taking charges. It might not show up in the box score, but those are winning plays.”

The Jackets played with quick hands, deflecting passes and poking balls away. It has become Tech’s defensive formula, relying on quickness and effort to create turnovers to compensate for the lack of a rim defender. Clemson shot 52.1% from the field but was undone by its 20 turnovers, 11 by steals, including four each by Devoe and guard Jose Alvarado.

“I told our guys we might have some miscues here and there, but there’s one thing that that we’ve got to be perfect on, and that’s winning the scrum game, winning the loose balls,” Pastner said. “That’s who our identity is, winning the 50/50′s.”

Tech cast the look of a team hungry to resume its bid for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2010 and one entirely capable of doing so. The win over the Tigers was the Jackets’ most significant of the season. Besides the AP ranking, Clemson was ranked 39th nationally in NET ranking (the NCAA’s new ranking metric) after Tuesday’s games. (Tech was 70th and moved up 12 spots with the win.)

Devoe enunciated his belief that Tech is one of the best teams in the country. Wednesday night, it was hard to offer too much protest.

“When we play together the right way and play like we did (Wednesday), we’re a hard team to beat,” he said.

The Jackets took control of the game midway through the first half with a 16-5 run that turned a 23-21 Clemson lead into a 35-28 advantage for Tech. Usher hit a 3 from the corner on a pass from Wright. On the next trip down, Usher faked a pass to the corner and bagged another 3, this time from the wing. Devoe hit a stepback 3 over a challenge. Wright drove the lane for a dunk, scored again in the lane (plus an and-one free throw) and then capped the run by driving down the lane and slipping a pass to Usher as he cut along the baseline.

Usher’s 21 points were a high for his Tech career, and his 5 3-pointers were a career high including his time at USC.

“A lot of my 3′s that I made were uncontested, open looks,” Usher said. “It’s bad on me if I missed that. So props to my guys for finding me.”

A 10-0 spurt in the middle of the second half raised the lead to 68-46, providing the Jackets the margin to withstand a lapse that enabled Clemson to cut the lead to as few as 13. The announced crowd of 1,200 voiced its approval as the final seconds ticked off.

“They did a great job for us (Wednesday),” Pastner said of the home crowd. “We felt the energy in the building.”