Clemson’s inside game too much for Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech forward Jalon Moore scored 12 points with nine rebounds against Clemson in the Yellow Jackets' 79-66 loss at McCamish Pavilion Dec. 21, 2022. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech forward Jalon Moore scored 12 points with nine rebounds against Clemson in the Yellow Jackets' 79-66 loss at McCamish Pavilion Dec. 21, 2022. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Georgia Tech did the one thing it does better than anything else Wednesday night against Clemson. The Yellow Jackets kept the Tigers from scoring efficiently from 3-point range.

Everything else was a bit of a problem for coach Josh Pastner’s team at McCamish Pavilion. The Jackets were clunky running their offense, continued their errant 3-point shooting and were practically powerless to defend Clemson at the basket. As such, the Jackets were whisked into their Christmas break with a 79-66 defeat in their second ACC game of the season.

Clemson (10-3, 2-0 ACC) scored 48 points in the paint, tied for the most that the Jackets have allowed this season. Clemson enjoyed repeated successes creating chances at the rim by getting behind Tech’s 1-3-1 zone defense for layups, beating Jackets defenders off the dribble to create scoring opportunities and using screens and pick-and-rolls to get its post players clean looks at the basket. Clemson finished the night shooting 26-for-44 on its two-point shots for 59.1%, the highest rate allowed by Tech (7-5, 0-2) this season.

Clemson finished with 20 assists on its 31 baskets.

“We obviously prepared for (the 1-3-1 zone) a lot and I thought our guys moved the ball,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “I think our passing is good, so we were able got move the ball and find guys when they’re open and make some good passes to lead to scores or good opportunities, anyway. That’s key when you play these guys.”

The Tigers’ ease at scoring in the lane rendered irrelevant their 5-for-18 shooting (27.8%) from 3-point range. Clemson entered the game making 40.2% of its 3-pointers, 15th in Division I and first in the ACC. Tech was eighth in Division I and first in the ACC at 3-point percentage defense (26.2%). The Jackets could lay claim to having undone the Tigers’ 3-point game (it helped that marksman Alex Hemenway was out with a foot injury), but that was not much of a consolation prize with the defense inside the arc not offering much resistance.

“I feel our (defensive) rotations were just a little slow,” Tech forward Jalon Moore said.

At the same time, the Jackets were cold from 3-point range, making five of 23 (21.7%). After his team’s poor shooting from 3-point range to start the season, Pastner took encouragement from the Jackets’ 13-for-24 performance from behind the arc against Alabama State on Saturday. But, whatever the reason (perhaps one being that Alabama State is in the bottom fifth percentile in Division I in 3-point percentage defense), the Jackets could not replicate, and were not much better closer to the basket, either. Pastner called the errant 3-point shooting “demoralizing,” particularly given that so many of the shots were open.

“I thought we got through that after Alabama State, but it kind of came back to just not making shots again,” he said.

Further, they were 11-for-18 from the free-throw line, including two misses on the front end of one-and-ones.

“I think we’re going to continue to get better, but we just have to control what we can control, and that’s defense right now,” Tech guard Kyle Sturdivant said. “And that’s going to lead to better offense, better possessions.”

Tech’s offensive inability and Clemson’s aptitude at the basket particularly overlapped in a first-half stretch when the Jackets failed to score a basket for almost 10 minutes, enabling the Tigers to flip a 14-10 deficit into a 30-16 lead. The Tigers led the rest of the way, stretching the lead to as many as 23 points in the second half. Tech made things a little interesting with a run to cut the lead to 51-38 with 12:56 to go, a spurt that drew the enthusiasm of the announced crowd of 4,763. But the Tigers answered with a three-point play off a drive to the basket, forward Ja’von Franklin missed a shot in the post and then Clemson forward P.J. Hall scored two of his game-high 25 points when Tech guard Lance Terry couldn’t stay in front of guard Brevin Galloway, causing Franklin to leave Hall as a help defender. Galloway’s shot was off, but with no one to keep him off the glass, Hall had two tries at a putback, the second of which was successful. The lead returned to 56-38, safely away from any suggestion of danger.

“We’ve got to guard the ball better,” Pastner said.

To their credit, the Jackets fought to the end, cutting the lead to 12 with 1:16 to play, but the final outcome was not in doubt at that point.

Brownell ended his three-game losing streak at McCamish. Tech was led by guard Miles Kelly’s 17 points, including 3-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. Moore scored 12 with nine rebounds. Hall’s 25 points more than doubled his season scoring average, making 12 of 18 shots from the field.

Tech will be off for its holiday break and will start practice again Monday in preparation for its next game, at home Dec. 31 against No. 6 Virginia.

“It obviously doesn’t get any easier,” Pastner said.