March 9, 2016
WASHINGTON (AP) – Every time Georgia Tech huddled when trailing by double digits in the second half, players told each other to concentrate on getting one stop at a time. Each time it worked, and Clemson’s lead dwindled to make the comeback feel more realistic.
Down 18 with 9:25 left, Georgia Tech stormed all the way back to force overtime and beat Clemson 88-85 on Wednesday night in the second round of the ACC Tournament. It’s the biggest ACC Tournament comeback win since North Carolina erased a 19-point deficit to beat Miami in 2011.
“Definitely as a head coach I’ve never seen anything like that, especially with the magnitude of the game,” Georgia Tech’s Brian Gregory said after scanning the score sheet and collecting his thoughts after the emotional win that sets up a showdown against No. 4 Virginia on Thursday. “We keep telling each other we’re never out of the fight. We weren’t tonight. It looked like it.”
The fact that it was even a fight was a testament to the play and production of Marcus Georges-Hunt and Adam Smith. Georges-Hunt scored 24 of his final 28 points after halftime, and Smith made four of his seven 3-point attempts to finish with 23.
Georges-Hunt was dominant as the 10th-seeded Yellow Jackets (19-13) chipped away at seventh-seeded Clemson’s lead. After just four points in the first half, Georgia Tech’s leading scorer listened to teammates when they told him to go to the basket.
“I wasn’t playing aggressive enough,” Georges-Hunt said. “I didn’t go to the free throw line in the first half. I was thinking in my head, `I have to attack, attack, attack.”‘
With Smith’s shot keeping Clemson (17-14) honest, Georges-Hunt drove and picked up foul after foul and went 15 of 16 from the line. Tigers coach Brad Bromwell was frustrated that after a combined three free throws in the first half, the game “became a free throw contest.”
The glass also hurt Clemson as Georgia Tech won the rebounding battle 46-28 and 28-17 after halftime. Combine that with Clemson’s struggles all over the floor in the final 10 minutes of the second half, and it went downhill fast.
“We kind of played like we had a (big) lead, and ultimately it cost us in the end,” said Jaron Blossomgame, who led Clemson with 22 points. “We have to keep our foot on the gas and keep playing, and obviously we didn’t do a good enough job of that.”
Even after blowing the lead, Clemson had a chance to win it with the score tied at 80 after two free throws by Georges-Hunt with 12.2 seconds left. But Avry Holmes missed a shot from the baseline with the clock running out.
“Probably would have liked to have started it one or two seconds earlier,” Bromwell said. “Avry decided to go to the rim, draw contact, see if he could get a foul. Didn’t get a call.”
After celebrating getting to overtime at midcourt, Georgia Tech took the lead 18 seconds in and never relinquished it. Now it’s on to Virginia, which Georgia Tech beat at home 68-64 on Jan. 9.
“I thought we played maybe our best, definitely to that point, game of the year against them,” Gregory said. “We have to do a really good job defending the ball and not giving them second opportunities.”
Georgia Tech: Has won six of seven, all of which have been decided by six points or less. … Eighteen of 19 ACC games were decided by single digits, except a Feb. 13 loss to Clemson.
Clemson: Jones scored 19 points and had his streak of consecutive games with a steal snapped at 15. … Also led by nine at halftime against Georgia Tech Feb. 23 only to lose by two. … Browmell said the Tigers would welcome an NIT bid to keep playing, adding that they’re “tournament-worthy.”
Georgia Tech: Faces fourth-ranked Virginia in the quarterfinals Thursday. (Bracket)