March 9, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Despite appearances that might suggest Georgia Tech and Clemson are going different directions, Yellow Jackets head coach Brian Gregory is not approaching tonight’s ACC Tournament game against the Tigers as if they’ve lost their bite.
Sure, the Jackets (18-13, 8-10 ACC) have won five of six since falling 66-52 to Clemson Feb. 13 in Greenville, and the Tigers (17-13, 10-8) dropped three of five after that – including a 75-73 loss at Tech on Feb. 23 – with both wins over Boston College (7-25, 0-18).
The Tigers, though, have beaten Tech in 12 of the past 14 meetings, and, frankly, records don’t matter much now other than having seeded these teams against each other with the winner advancing to the ACC quarterfinals against No. 4 Virginia.
“I can’t think of a game against Clemson where it hasn’t been a grind,” Gregory said. “I think both programs and coaches have kind of been built around hard-nosed defense and so forth. Both teams are improved offensively. I think that’s why we’ve both had pretty good seasons.”
With a strength of schedule ranked No. 4 by ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and No. 26 by CBSSports.com, the Jackets have NCAA Tournament aspirations. They probably have to get a couple things done at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. to punch a ticket, like beat Clemson and then trip Virginia for a second time.
The Tigers are not likely to make it easy.
First team All-ACC junior forward Jaron Blossomgame of Alpharetta will be a handful at the offensive end of the floor after averaging 20.6 points per game in ACC play while shooting 51.6 percent.
Plus, if Clemson is dialed in defensively, the Jackets are likely to need a better-than-average night shooting from afar.
“There’s a lot of emotion knowing we split one and one with them,” said senior forward Charles Mitchell. “In the first two games, they really doubled the post.”
Yes, that’s the Clemson way. Tigers head coach Brad Brownell has a serious aversion to letting opponents have their way inside.
That doesn’t mean the Jackets will abandon the post. It means their inside-out game better be on.
“This team is going to post trap big-to-big or whatever,” Gregory said. “Our bigs have to realize we’re still going to throw them the ball, but they may not have the opportunities to score like they would normally, and they have to be OK with that.
“You can’t change in terms of never throwing it in there, but you have to change in terms of what you’re trying to get out of it.”
The Tigers’ strategy worked the first time around.
Tech big men James White, Nick Jacobs, Ben Lammers and Mitchell were a combined 8-of-21 from the field for 17 inefficient points. The Jackets were doubled up in the paint as Clemson outscored Tech 40-20 inside, and the long balls were not there to make the Tigers pay. The Jackets made 1-of-11 3-pointers.
Tech made changes that worked a couple weeks later.
By then, Georges-Hunt had moved to point guard, Stephens into the wing spot, and Jacobs was back in the starting lineup in place of White.
Clemson again closed down the paint, outscoring Tech 28-18 inside, but the Jackets were much better from afar in making 9-of-20 3-pointers on the way to a narrow win in McCamish Pavilion.
Smith made 4-of-7 treys, Stephens 3-of-8 and Georges-Hunt added one while scoring 25 points, including the game-winning free throws late.
“It’s a tough matchup. Adam Smith is an outstanding shooter,” Brownell said. “They’re a talented offensive team because they have a lot of different weapons, so you can’t just focus on one guy. Marcus Georges-Hunt is certainly going to be a challenge for us.”
The Jackets will still try to feed their bigs, yet they’d better be ready to reciprocate. They’ll be looking for Smith outside.
“He’s the best shooter I’ve seen in a while,” Mitchell said. “He’s just one of those players, teams have to check him regardless . . . “