Clemson struggled mightily to find a rhythm and match the intensity brought by Georgia Tech, but the Tigers' new found friend (the free throw line) helps the team stay alive in the ACC tourney with a 69-65 win in OT over GT. This is the 10th straight victory over the Jackets, which is an impressive feat against any ACC hoops opponent (especially when you consider the very mediocre history of the Tiger program). Here's a quick list of reflections:
1. Landry Nnoko saved us. His stats may only say 8 points and 6 boards on 2-8 from the floor, but he was a monster defensively with 6 blocks and several other hustle plays that helped keep the Tigers afloat when the team was seriously in danger of letting the game get away. He looked cool as a cucumber on his late free throws and we needed every one of them. His improvement from last year to this year is on par with the jump we saw from K.J. from his freshman to sophomore year.
2. K.J. is battling through some stuff. Turns out his shoulder is hurting him. You could see the brace they had on him last night and Brownell informed us that he's been dealing with this for about two weeks now. It certainly helps explain his struggles from beyond the arch and not as many big finishes around the basket as earlier in the season. Still, he was money from the line and managed to give us 18 points. True warrior and leader.
3. That officiating crew sucked something fierce. I literally burst out laughing when they called Heyward bulldozed Harrison on that dribble handoff late. At that point the only player control fouls called all night were on Clemson for things the Tech players were doing with regularity. No doubt the offensive guy using a stiff arm is a foul, but call that crap both ways. Golden and Georges-Hunt made a living pushing off on dribble drives with no calls. I felt like we were playing in Cameron Indoor or the Dean Dome for a good bit of the game seeing the inconsistency and general suckitude from the refs.
4. We better play a whole lot better and harder tonight. Credit GT for coming off a late OT game the night before and bringing some serious energy to the contest. They were killing us on the glass in the first half and winning just about every 50-50 ball. The Tigers were much better rebounding in the second half, with Jaron Blossomgame especially ramping up his efforts (9 rebounds), and that helped save the day. However, that type of effort against a team of Duke's level will lead to us staring at a 20 point deficit at the half.
5. We actually ended up winning the battle on the glass thanks to a much stronger effort in the second half. We ended up with 3 guys in double figures and overcame a tremendous night from Trae Golden. Hopefully we can find our legs to hang with a much different animal in Duke who will look to push the tempo full blast.
The good news about tonight is our guys know they can beat Duke. The bad news is that Duke also knows this and with Villanova losing yesterday, they know winning this tourney can get a #1 seed for them. We are going to get their full attention. K.J. being banged up is not good news for us as we will need him playing at a high level to pull off another upset of the Devils. He posted the lowest Ortg on the team last night (90) and we'll need more from him against Duke on top of guys like Blossomgame, who led the team in offensive efficiency (Ortg: 164) and played well (improved) defensively, to excel in their roles.
The crowd will be majority Duke for sure. KenPom gives us a paltry 23% chance at winning this one. No choice but to let it all hang out. We've really got nothing to lose as the NCAA tourney was lost in the Pitt game.