Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Just the way you drew it up, right coach? Yeah.
Clemson was able to snap a 3 game losing skid by notching their first ACC road win of the season against GT, holding on by a score of 56-53. Road wins are difficult to come in conference play no matter who you are, so you won't hear any complaints about the victory. But you also won't hear me praise the aesthetic beauty of that game I just witnessed. It wasn't and ugly game due to turnovers, as Clemson and GT only turned the ball over 7 and 10 times, respectively. It was ugly because these teams struggled to execute their offenses, make open shots, and knock down free throws. Clemson used a 4+ minute stretch of good basketball to go on a 17-5 run in the second half to build up a double digit lead, which proved to be just enough cushion.
We talked in the preview about the offensive struggles that define these two teams. Those struggles were most prevalent in the first half. Clemson shot just 28% in the first half, but maintained a 20-15 leading heading to the break due to GT's middle school girl-esque 17% 1st half shooting. K.J. McDaniels didn't get the start in this one due to missing practices this week because of his grandmother's illness and an ankle injury, but it didn't impact his minutes.
The second half started completely different than the first half, with each team shooting the ball much better. Clemson then used the aforementioned 17-5 run to take a 12 point lead. They held a comfortable lead for much of the second half, until missed free throws and poor decisions allowed GT back in the game. At this point, I started getting an eery feeling, one that I've had in several other close game this year. McDaniels started it by going 2-4 at the line. Devin Booker tried an ill-adivsed NBA dunk contest-like cradled-windmill dunk from the 3-point line. Milton Jennings got moved under the basket on a defensive rebound off a free throw that wound up with Rod Hall carrying the ball out of bounds. All of that and we were left with an almost identical situation to Sunday, Milton Jennings heading to the foul line for a 1-and-1 with under 10 seconds to go and Clemson up by 2.
Jennings knocked down the first before missing the second. Mfon Udofia rushed the ball down the court, pulled up at the 3-point line, and his head fake got Jennings to commit a cardinal sin of leaving his feet. But instead of Udofia seeking out contact, he went straight up with the shot. Jennings redeemed himself by blocking Udofia's shot on his way down.
This was an extremely important win for the psyche of this team. If they had blown this game you'd wonder if they had anything left in the tank. They've blown a couple of games this year they should've won and have lost two games on 3-pointers at the buzzer. Losing another game in which they led the entire way and extending their losing streak to 4 games may have been too much for this young team to handle. But instead, they keep proving that they have fight in them and that they haven't quit on the season just because they've had a few bad breaks.
Lets hope that fight carries over to Sunday, where they have a very tall task on their hands trying to give Miami their first conference loss of the season. The game will tip at 6 PM at Littlejohn and be broadcast on ESPNU as part of ACC's Sunday Night Basketball coverage.