CLEMSON - B.J. Elder's return to the Georgia Tech lineup couldn't have come at a worse time for Clemson.
Playing for the first time in ACC competition this season, Elder scored 11 points in a supporting role to help the Yellow Jackets ease past Clemson, 70-62, Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Elder had missed his team's first nine conference games after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half of a Jan. 1 game vs. Kansas. Georgia Tech (14-7, 5-5 ACC), last season's national runner up, went 4-5 with Elder out of the lineup and this week fell out of the AP Top 25 for the first time all year.
The Tigers (11-11, 2-8) led by eight points at the half and appeared to be headed for a second straight strong performance - their last outing being a 15-point win over then No. 24 Maryland.
But the Yellow Jackets quickly erased the advantage in the early stages of the second half, and took the lead for good, 53-52, on Elder's deep 3-pointer from the corner at 9:35. That basket sparked Tech, who built a lead as many as 10 points down the stretch and held on for the victory.
“I think it really boils down to the first half we were fairly balanced,” said Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell. “We were defending pretty well and scoring pretty well. In the second half we had that huge scoring drought coming down the stretch and our defense was porous before that.
Jarrett Jack led the Yellow Jackets with 16 points, followed by Will Bynum and Isma'il Muhammad with 13 each.
Tech shot 59 percent (26-of-45) from the field, while limiting Clemson to just 44 percent (26-of-59). The Tigers also struggled from the free throw line (4-of-12) and were an anemic 6-of-26 (23 percent) from the 3-point line.
“I don’t think we have been defended as well by any team this year, particularly in the second half,” said Purnell. “The best defensive team won tonight. I don’t know how many times we have to get that lesson across to our guys. Defense wins games and championships.”
Olu Babalola (12 points) and freshman James Mays (10) were the only Tigers in double figures. Senior center Sharrod Ford was held to just three points on the night, the precise total he needed to become the 29th Tiger in school history to reach 1,000 points for his career.
“We couldn’t get the ball to Sharrod and when we did there were three people around him and we couldn’t convert out of that,” said Purnell.
In a highlight off the floor, Clemson legend Banks McFadden was in attendance Tuesday night, celebrating his 88th birthday. He was introduced during a timeout and greeted with a standing ovation while the Tiger pep band serenaded him with "Happy Birthday."