Clemson ripped a win out of the jaws of defeat to overcome Georgia Tech, 74-72 on Friday night in Littlejohn Coliseum. Needless to say, I (and I’m sure nearly every other Clemson fan following this) had all but conceded the loss as Michael Devoe had yet another huge game against Clemson.
Devoe put GT up 71-68 with 2 free throws leading Clemson to take a time out at half court with 15 seconds remaining. The side out action led to Aamir Simms catching it at the top of the 3-point line with a seemingly free look at a potential 3-pointer to tie the game. Instead of shooting, he drove and dished for a Jonathan Baehre dunk to cut GT’s lead to 1.
Clemson nearly caused a five second in-bounding violation, but a desperate heave to mid-court found Moses Wright literally boxing Simms out to get the pass and then find Jose Alvarado, who was finally fouled with just 8 seconds remaining. Clemson got a huge break as Alvarado, an 84% FT shooter, missed both attempts. The ensuing rebound led to Nick Honor coming off a solid ball screen from Aamir Simms at midcourt, and since Simms’s defender (Moses Wright) was sagging off in the paint, Honor got a clean look from a couple of steps behind the line and banked it in with just a second to go.
Sometimes you need to be lucky, and the Lord knows Clemson has been on the wrong side of these types of moments a ton of times (particularly in 2018-2019). GT was the first to break 60, a usual harbinger of doom for Clemson basketball, then GT got to 70, which is an almost certain sign of a Clemson defeat, yet the Tigers did enough to stay close and made a big shot at the end. Clemson certainly defended the 3-point line a lot better this time around, as GT finished just 5-19. In the Tigers’ five ACC losses, opponents have torched them for 45% from 3. They avoided such fate this time. Aamir Simms did the majority of the heavy lifting on offense, tying his career high with 25 points. Honor’s 3 put him into double figures with 12.
Georgia Tech had decent control of things in the first half thanks to Devoe being as good against Clemson as he was terrible against UVA. GT looked like they might pull away as the Tigers turned the ball over 8 times in the first 8 minutes of the game. Clemson finally started to get some fouls drawn on GT, particularly Moses Wright, and the Tigers were able to trim a 9 point GT lead down to just 4 at the half even without scoring a field goal the final 6+ minutes. One of the major keys to this win was Clemson going 17-19 from the free throw line after shooting just 7 total free throws in the first meeting. The Tigers also shot 9-18 from 3-point range. They needed every bit of that to overcome GT’s massive advantage in transition scoring.
Clemson’s guards were largely outplayed once again by GT’s, but Honor was able to get free to score just enough to help ease that mismatch. Simms outdueled Moses Wright in the other key matchup. I didn’t leave this game thinking Clemson was better than GT, and I certainly would prefer not to face the Jackets again in the ACC tournament, but it was a monumental victory to keep momentum alive and remain in the upper half of the ACC. GT has certainly proven to be a very difficult matchup for Clemson. Sometimes a team’s personnel and style works against you more than others. However, a win is a win is a win and Clemson can now go into the upcoming three game road trip feeling very good about themselves. Clemson finishing 3-2 or better now would almost certainly lock up an NCAA tournament birth regardless of the ACC tournament results. 4-1 or even 5-0 is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
The Tigers are now 5th in the ACC at 7-5. They’re half a game behind North Carolina (7-4) and a full game up on Syracuse (5-5) and Pittsburgh (5-5). Clemson owns the tie breaker against both North Carolina and Syracuse and has two games remaining against Pittsburgh. Before those games, Clemson will travel to Notre Dame on Wednesday.