Georgia Tech struggles from 3 again in loss to No. 24 Clemson

Georgia Tech guard Deivon Smith dribbles the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Clemson Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

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Georgia Tech guard Deivon Smith dribbles the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Clemson Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

CLEMSON, S.C. – The shots journeyed to the rim from the corner, the wing and the top of the 3-point arc. They were attempted in transition, off the dribble and the pass. And just about all of Georgia Tech’s 3-point tries Tuesday night bounced harmlessly off the rim, each miss deflating the Yellow Jackets just a little bit more and nudging them closer to another loss.

Tech’s 3-point errancy was hardly the only flaw in the Jackets’ 72-51 loss to No. 24 Clemson, but it was the most prominent. Two games after a 2-for-21 effort in a home loss to N.C. State, Tech hit just four of 23 shots behind the arc against the Tigers, missing 13 in a row at one point.

“We just aren’t able to score,” coach Josh Pastner said.

Tech (8-12, 1-9 ACC) reached the halfway point of the league schedule on a six-game losing streak with a Saturday home game against Duke coming up. Of the six losses, five have been by double digits. The Jackets have their poorest league record after 10 games since the 2014-15 season, which also started 1-9 and finished 3-15.

Clemson (17-4, 9-1), picked to finish 11th in the conference before the season, remained atop the conference, completed a season sweep of the Jackets and won its 15th consecutive game at Littlejohn. The Tigers, who were a seemingly effortless 9-for-20 from 3-point range, are luxuriating in all the lightness and joy that comes with being a surprise first-place team.

“(Missing 13 3-pointers in a row) is hell, obviously,” said Clemson guard Brevin Galloway, who made three of six 3-point tries and finished with 14 points. “But that being said, being on the other end of it is beautiful. And just seeing them miss after miss and obviously, their confidence keeps dropping, and that just feeds into the crowd and it gives us life on the defensive end as well. Seeing the other teams miss is beautiful.”

Tech entered the game 13th in the ACC in 3-point shooting percentage at 31.6%. Its performance against the Tigers dropped the Jackets to 30.9%. Clemson doesn’t necessarily deserve much credit for defending the arc. Off the 13 consecutive 3-point tries without a make, which began late in the first half and extended until Deebo Coleman drained a 3-point try from the corner with 2:13 left in the game, Pastner categorized 11 or 12 as “really good shots” in terms of shot selection. Execution was another matter.

“I thought at times when they were shooting it, I could tell as the ball was released, it didn’t look like it was going to go in,” Pastner said.

It remains a baffling puzzle. A year ago, Coleman made 41.3% of his 3-point tries as a freshman (43-for-104). After making one of seven against the Tigers, his season average dropped to 31.4% (32-for-102).

“Our guys, I’m telling you – guys are fighting and competing,” Pastner said. “They’re giving everything they have. We just can’t score right now.”

The Jackets fell behind 12-0 in the first three minutes as the Tigers bagged 3-pointers on their first three possessions, the last a four-point play when Tech forward Jalon Moore fouled Galloway on the shot.

It ran counter to the pattern of several Jackets games of late, when they’ve taken early leads only to surrender them with prolonged cold spells. Tuesday, Tech got that out of the way, not reaching five points until almost 4 ½ minutes had elapsed.

But, to its credit, Tech found its footing and rallied, led by the playmaking of guard Deivon Smith. A 12-3 run capped by a Smith pullup jumper cut the lead to 25-22 with 6:08 left in the half. Clemson answered with eight consecutive points over three possessions (including a Galloway 3-pointer) to return the lead to 33-22. The half ended with Clemson leading 37-28, and then the Tigers pushed the lead to 45-32 to start the second half. The Jackets didn’t have the offensive firepower – or defensive might – to make a serious charge after that.

Smith was the Jackets’ most effective player with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Forward Ja’von Franklin led with 12 points and five rebounds. The Jackets shot 34.4% from the field. Their 51-point total was their lowest since a 57-49 home loss to Virginia in February 2021. Clemson came into the game allowing 66.3 points per game in ACC play, though the Tigers gave up just 50 in a win over Virginia Tech Saturday.

“We’re definitely working very, very hard in the gym,” Smith said. “I feel like everybody’s tired of losing because we know we’re capable of winning. We’re always right there and we just need a little bit more. So it’s definitely frustrating because we do work so hard, but I think we’re going to get over the hump pretty soon.”

The Tigers shot 52.9% from the field (27-for-51), led by 17 points from forward P.J. Hall.

Pastner offered his assurance that, at some point, Tech’s cold streak will break.

“When? I don’t know,” he said. “I pray it happens Saturday vs. Duke, for crying out loud.”

Clemson center PJ Hall celebrates a three pointer by a teammate during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

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