GREENSBORO, NC - The 12th-seeded Clemson Lady Tigers pulled off the biggest on-paper upset in the ACC Tournament's 32-year history today when they scored on seven straight second-half possessions en route to an 81-69 victory over No. 5 Georgia Tech.
Freshman center Shaniqua Pauldo, making the first start of her collegiate career, responded with a career-high 23 points to lead the Lady Tigers, who ended a five-game losing streak with the victory. Clemson (14-16) advances to Friday's 11 a.m. quarterfinal against fourth-seeded North Carolina.
"We felt we underachieved as a team in the last month of the season," Clemson coach Cristy McKinney said. "We looked at this as a new season."
Before this morning, teams seeded five or more places higher than their opponents had been 60-4 in tournament history. Included in that were the first three meetings of fifth and 12th seeds. The favorites won those by 65 total points.
The Lady Tigers overcame a stretch of early turnovers to stabilize and ultimately catch and pull away from the Jackets. Tech had reason to believe it could create problems for Clemson with a half-court trap, but the Lady Tigers beat it decisively twice in the critical 15-4, second-half run. The surge turned a 40-39 deficit into a 54-44 lead with 14:31 left.
The Jackets never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
"It was more about composure," said guard Lele Hardy, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. "We weren't trying to force things. We were trying to make the easy play, the easy pass and just do what was best for us."
Hardy, a third-team All-ACC and ACC All-Defensive Team selection, set a program record with seven steals on Thursday afternoon. The figure tied the most in a single ACC Tournament game for a Lady Tiger in history and moved her into second place with 101 steals on the year.
Meanwhile, Pauldo picked an excellent time for the best game of her life. After averaging 3.6 points per regular-season conference game, she asserted herself on the right block and as an aggressive offensive rebounder. Perhaps her most important contribution came with 2:19 left, when she beat the shot clock with a runner in the lane that repelled a brief Jacket comeback bid.
"I knew (McKinney) believed in me," Pauldo said. "I wanted to be the go-to post player and to help my team win."
Three other players scored in double-figures to give Clemson five players in all with at least 10 points for the first time since the Lady Tigers’ win over NC State in the first round of the 2008 conference tournament. Senior Tasha Taylor turned in a 12-point, nine-assist performance to resemble the pre-injury player she was in 2006-07.
The news was doubly troubling for Georgia Tech, which lost leading scorer Alex Montgomery for the final two minutes with an apparent knee or ankle injury. Montgomery, a third-team All-ACC player averaging 13.6 points per game, was carried from the floor to the bench by teammates and medical staffers. The extent of the damage could not be immediately ascertained.
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech Game Notes
ACC Tournament, First Round
March 5, 2009
• Clemson is now 29-29 all-time in ACC Tournament play.
• Clemson became the first #12 seed to win a game in the conference tournament since the ACC expanded to 12 teams for the 2005-06 season.
• With the Lady Tigers’ win over Georgia Tech, they advanced to the second round of action in the ACC Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1998 and 1999. Last year, Clemson defeated NC State, 65-60, in overtime on the first day of play.
• Clemson will face fourth-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals for the second straight season. The Tar Heels won last year’s game by a 97-77 margin en route to the ACC title.
• The Lady Tigers were 18-19 from the free throw line to tie the second-best percentage in school history. Clemson was also 18-19 against Tennessee on Jan. 21, 1982. The best night was a 20-21 performance against Wake Forest during the 2005-06 season.
• Five players scored in double figures in Thursday’s game (Pauldo-23; Taylor-12; Hardy-10; Parker-10; Thomas-10), the first time the Lady Tigers have had five hit double digits since their win over NC State in the first round of the 2008 ACC Tournament.
• Clemson’s 81 points were the most since an 85-60 win over Charleston Southern on Jan. 20 and were the most scored against an ACC team this season.
• Shaniqua Pauldo had a career day on Thursday. After earning her first starting assignment, the freshman from Macon, GA turned in a 23-point performance to score in double figures for just the second time this season. She matched her personal best with seven rebounds as well.
• Pauldo’s 23 points were the most for a freshman in an ACC Tournament game since before the 1991-92 season.
• Lele Hardy tied a school record with seven steals against Georgia Tech. The mark matched Ramona O’Neal’s seven against Duke in the 1988 event for the most in an ACC Tournament game.
• With the seven steals, Hardy now has 101 for the season, second-most in a single season for a Clemson player.
• The seven steals tied for second-most in an ACC Tournament game by a player from any school. The conference record for steals in a two-game stint in the tournament is 10 by four players, including Hardy who had 10 in 2008.
• Senior Tasha Taylor’s nine assists were the most for her this season. She had tallied six in four previous games.
• Friday’s game will be Clemson’s 10th on television this season, which is the most since the Lady Tigers played 11 games on TV during the 2002-03 season. Clemson is 2-7 in those games this year.
• Head Coach Cristy McKinney used her 15th different starting line-up on Thursday with the 11th different player earning the assignment.
• Assistant Coach Saudia Roundtree did not make the trip due to medical reasons.
• Lele Hardy moved into 16th place on the career scoring chart with 10 points on Thursday. The junior now has 1,115 for her career.
• Hardy’s seven steals put her within three of tying Ramona O’Neal for second place on the career steals list with 283.
• The Lady Tigers will face fourth-seeded North Carolina on Friday for the 13th match-up between the two schools in history at the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels have won the past two meetings, including last year’s 97-77 win in the quarterfinals.
• North Carolina has won the last 14 games overall in the series and holds a 46-26 all-time advantage. The Tar Heels defeated the Lady Tigers, 83-74, on Jan. 8 in the teams’ only meeting during the 2008-09 season. Clemson’s last win was at the 2001 ACC Tournament when the Lady Tigers defeated North Carolina, 75-57.
• The Lady Tigers overcame a 12-point deficit against the Tar Heels to take a 65-64 lead with 5:03 remaining before North Carolina ended the game on a 19-10 run.