The #15 Tigers returned to Littlejohn Coliseum looking to snap their three-game losing streak and win both contests against Georgia Tech this season.
Things started off quite well.
DeVoe who had scored just 22 total points in his three previous games, hit an early three to start the Tiger scoring. The Tigers had the momentum from the start. With just under 15:00 left in the first half, DeVoe would bury another three-pointer, prompting a Georgia Tech timeout. He received a hearty congratulations from his teammates at the bench, and you could practically feel his cold streak melt away. A few minutes later, he’d drain a quick release three-pointer off a catch and shoot and extend the Tiger lead to 17-7 with just under 13 minutes to go.
The Tigers looked “back” and were playing with great energy, but the Yellow Jackets had an answer: Josh Okogie. The Yellow Jackets’ star had eight of GT’s first 10 points, keeping them within reach, and when his teammates woke up, he led the way as they shifted the momentum in their favor.
Back-to-back threes from Tadric Jackson cut the Tiger lead to 21-16. Okogie would add a three of his own and continue to pick up steam as he was either scoring or grabbing offensive rebounds and dishing assists to teammates. Moments later, Josh Okogie grabbed an offensive rebound and passed to Evan Cole, who gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead (26-24) since 3-0 with a three-point shooter.
Josh Okogie ended the first half shooting 6-6 with 17 points. The Tigers had no answer, and went into halftime searching as they trailed 33-37.
Coming out of the break, the Tigers still could not quell the Yellow Jackets’ momentum. Aided by yet another Josh Okogie offensive rebound, the Yellow Jackets quickly added four more to their lead to make it 41-33. The lead would swell to 49-38 in favor of Georgia Tech before a big defense play by David Skara swung the momentum.
A Skara steal and coast-to-coast lay-in livened up the gloomy Tiger crowd, though they still trailed by nine (40-49). Skara would lock onto Josh Okogie defensively at about this point in the game. Skara showed fantastic effort in ball denial and managed to take the previously unstoppable Okogie out of his game. In the next few minutes, Okogie failed to score, but collected his third and fourth fouls, and exited the game with just under 12:00 left to play. Clemson trailed by 7, 46-53, but with Georgia Tech’s star player headed to the bench the Tigers were handed a prime opportunity.
It was a slow and steady effort, but the Tigers chipped away. With 7:21 remaining, they’d trimmed the GT lead to three. Coach Josh Pastner decided to put Josh Okogie back in the game at that point, but Brownell countered by putting David Skara in to guard him. With Skara defending, Okogie couldn’t regain his form and the Tigers turned a 55-58 game into a 61-61 game with 3:30 left to play. The Yellow Jackets failed to find any offense, allowing Marcquise Reed to give Clemson their first lead of the second half with a jumper from the top off the key and then pull away to a 75-67 win.
Clemson, despite blowing a 10-point lead and falling behind by 11, ended the game on a 20-9 run after Josh Okogie checked back in.
So much credit goes to David Skara for a superb defense effort. He only scored those two points from the steal and lay-in, but his defensive effort in the second half was a key in the game. Okogie scored 22 points while adding five offensive rebounds and six assists. 17 of his 22 points came in the first half.
Shelton Mitchell was another key to this game. He didn’t start, but returned from the injury he suffered at Florida State and played starter minutes. He checked in at the 15:33 mark of the first half and very quickly you could see the offense regain its flow. He only had two assists, but Clemson’s ball movement looked much better. He finished with 14 points, most of which came from attacking the basket. He was 6-6 from the FT line.
The importance of this win cannot be overstated. Worries of a “collapse” are gone and a look at the ACC shows the Tigers back in fourth place (the top four teams get a double-bye in the conference tournament) after a Virginia Tech loss to Louisville. Their prime competition for that fourth place slot comes from NC State, who plays FSU, @GT, and Louisville.
The Tigers will play Florida State on Wednesday at 9pm on ESPNU in what will be a crucial game for the ACC standings.