GREENVILLE – Although it took some time to tell Georgia Tech to buzz off, Clemson picked up a much-needed 66-52 win Saturday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, snapping a stretch of three losses in four games.
It’s crunch time for the Tigers’ (15-10, 8-5 ACC) resume, and the NCAA Tournament won’t come calling if Clemson slips up against the league’s bottom-feeders. Clemson pulled away in the second half behind junior forward Jaron Blossomgame’s 17 points and seven rebounds and senior guard Jordan Roper’s 15 points.
Clemson shot 40 percent from the field, its second-lowest clip of the season in a victory. (In beating Louisville 66-62 on Jan. 10 and shooting 33 percent, the Tigers were granted 44 free throws.)
“We didn’t shoot the ball well, we had a bad second half offensively,” said Blossomgame, who reached 1,000 career points with a couple of free throws early in the second half. “But our defense won us the game.”
Avry Holmes was sticky-handed with six steals, the most for a Clemson player in six years under head coach Brad Brownell. Holmes and Donte Grantham scored transition baskets off of steals on consecutive possessions for an energy boost and a 6-point lead with a little more than seven minutes to go that drained the Yellow Jackets.
So did the final five seconds of the first half, when after Blossomgame hit two free throws with 4.4 ticks left Roper stole the inbounds pass and sank a jumper at the buzzer for a 37-32 lead.
“It’s hard to score in the half-court, and by Avry getting those steals, showing that defensive activity, keeps guys ready in transition.” Blossomgame said. “And an older guy on the team made a play set the tone for the second half; guys saw the effort Jordan gave, and that’s a winning play.”
“This was a two- or three-possession game for most of the day. The score was closer than the game,” Brownell said. “But winning in a tough manner is something our team needs to do – we’re not a soft team, but our guys really stepped up today and played tough.”
Clemson made 2-of-13 three-point attempts and Georgia Tech was 1-for-11, a collective 12.5 percent clip from beyond the arc. The Yellow Jackets (13-12, 3-9) failed in their bid to win consecutive games for the first time in league play.
Georgia Tech was solid early, making shots inside and outside the paint on nine of its first 14 attempts from the field to open up a 20-13 lead with 11:23 left in the first half. After that point, Georgia Tech made 10 of its last 41 attempts.
“Their physicality was the difference in the game, both in the post and on the perimeter,” Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory said. “Our inability to score around the basket, and 1-of-11 from three, doesn’t help.”
Georgia Tech senior forward Charles Mitchell produced 11 points and 19 rebounds. The Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer, Marcus Georges-Hunt, went 2-for-7 from the floor for 10 points.
Clemson sophomore guard Gabe DeVoe, who stands 6-3 tall, led the Tigers with nine rebounds, one off his career high.
Clemson is now 7-3 coming off a loss this year, and will try to craft a winning streak Wednesday at home vs. Boston College (7-17, 0-11.)