Almost immediately after the opening tip, Landry Nnoko was on the bench with a foul. That, combined with some early buckets from GT sharpshooter Adam Smith, and the Tigers found themselves trailing early. They fought back though, and eventually would begin trading leads after five different Clemson players knocked down three-pointers (Blossomgame, Grantham, Hudson, Holmes, Roper).
Sidy Djitte was able to fill the void in the front court as Landry Nnoko only played 3 first half minutes. The front court depth we discussed way back in the season preview was a positive difference for Clemson. Without an improved Djitte, the Tigers may have been run off the court very early. Instead, the Tigers began to crack open a lead as halftime neared and with a bucket in the final seconds took a 40-31 lead into the locker room.
The Tigers outplayed the Yellow Jackets early in second half. As they pulled away, the announcers proclaimed "Clemson has had more energy in the second half." An 8-0 Tiger run spanning just 1:49 was capped by a Ty Hudson three-pointer to put them up 65-47. DAGGER!
Or so we thought...
Marcus Georges-Hunt, who had just 4 first half points took over the game. Attacking the basket he drew foul after foul getting his team into the bonus and eating away at the Tigers' lead. He knocked down 15 free throws and scored 28 total points after that quiet first half. Adam Smith, who was effective early on helped Georges-Hunt down the stretch adding a couple of three-pointers to finish with four baskets from deep including one that put the Jackets within striking distance in the final seconds of regulation.
The Tigers defense completely evaporated as the "here we go again" feeling set in. Georgia Tech surged back into the game, and despite missing five key free throws down the stretch was in position to tie the game when Marcus Georges-Hunt was back at the charity stripe. He knocked down the first free throw to bring it within one. Coach Brownell took a timeout before he attempted the 41st total free throw of what was a very tightly called and hard to watch second half. Swish! The Tigers' 18 point second half lead was gone.
Avry Holmes to this point had played an outstanding game, but on the final possession with a chance to win didn't come through. He walked the ball up the court very slowly, not starting the offense until only a few ticks remained. When Jaron Blossomgame was effectively denied the ball, Holmes' only option was to drive to the basket. When that was covered up, all he could do was throw up a hapless off-balance flail of a shot. It didn't come close and the Tigers would go to overtime with all the momentum against them.
Clemson quickly found themselves down five in overtime, but had a few chances to regain the lead. An open Avry Holmes three-pointer off an offensive rebound clanked off the rim. The parting blow was an isolation play for Jaron Blossomgame that resulted in a missed floater. Blossomgame would be forced to foul the rebounder to stop the clock. It would be his fifth foul of the game sending him to the bench for the final seconds with Sidy Djitte, who had already fouled out.
The Yellow Jackets scored 31 points in the final eight and a half minutes of the game. The Tigers completely collapsed.
After reaching 16-10, Clemson closed the season by losing four of their final five games, with only one coming against a top 50 (KenPom) team. They are looking at hopefully getting a #4 or #5 seed in the NIT depending on how many slots get eaten up by mid-major regular season conference champions who do not win their conference tournaments. Frankly, after tallying just four wins in 14 tries away from Bon Secours (Rutgers, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Boston College), it's flatly unrealistic to expect the Tigers to beat a quality opponent on the road or in NYC in the NIT. What really matters for this team now is what Jaron Blossomgame decides regarding the NBA draft.