CLEMSON - Sometimes timing is everything.
Take Clemson's last outing, an 88-73 win over then No. 24 Maryland exactly one week ago. Though the Terps had come off back-to-back conference wins over Top 25 teams (Georgia Tech and Duke), they hit the floor at Littlejohn Coliseum off a quick turnaround - a 7 p.m. Tuesday start directly on the heels of a 5:30 p.m. game two days earlier.
Whether the lack of rest and practice time was the main culprit can be debated, but Maryland was noticeably slower than the Tigers in every facet of the game. That advantage in energy, plus a return to solid, defensive basketball, were the key factors in Clemson snapping its five-game losing streak.
Fast forward to tonight.
Clemson hasn't played a game since upsetting the Terrapins. Georgia Tech, which began the season ranked No. 3 in the country, fell out of the AP poll Monday for the first time this week.
The Yellow Jackets (13-7, 4-5 ACC) have played all nine conference games without top scorer and floor leader B.J. Elder due to a hamstring injury, and haven't been the same team without him. Reports out of Atlanta say while there's a chance Elder could play tonight, a more likely return is the Yellow Jackets' next game vs. N.C. State.
With a litany of other minor injuries nagging at his players, head coach Paul Hewitt's team will take the floor tonight (7:06 p.m.) both banged up and desperate.
And while that could make the Jackets even more dangerous, Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell is hoping for the opposite reaction, and that the win over Maryland was just the start of good things for his Tigers (11-10, 2-7).
"I've said all along the schedule comes back to us," said Purnell, whose team opened ACC play with five of its first seven games away from home.
"We need to get better so that while the schedule is coming back to us we get the results that we want. Nothing's automatic, nothing's guaranteed just because you're playing at home, but obviously if you play better and you're home that's a double whammy. It may help you."
What helps more than anything is a better, more consistent effort defending the opposition.
While Clemson's offensive output has been steadily improving, its defense most decidedly did not during the five game losing streak. Purnell's mantra all season has been defense and rebounding first, and when the Tigers follow that formula they have success.
It worked against Maryland to snap the skid. Now Purnell would like to see a similar effort that coincides with a winning streak.
"The short term goal is to beat Georgia Tech," he said. T"he next thought on my mind, besides beating Georgia Tech, is consistency. (We need to) have our defense and rebounding be at that level for the rest of the season. If we can do that the rest will take care of itself."
Defending Georgia Tech can be difficult because of its athleticism.
Six-foot-six senior forward Isma'il Muhammad can be a one-man wrecking crew in the paint with his leaping ability, and guards Jarrett Jack (15 points per game) and Will Bynum (13) have picked up the scoring slack in Elder's absence.
Meanwhile, Purnell isn't taking any chances. Though Elder's return isn't expected for tonight, the Tigers are preparing as if he indeed will take the floor at some point.
"He's a great player when he's healthy. He provides great leadership, experience and all that. It might be a shot in the arm they think they need," Purnell said.
"You've gotta assume he's going to be 100 percent, because he might be. If he's 90 percent he's still pretty good."
- Clemson senior center Sharrod Ford scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds in the win over Maryland, a special performance for the Tiger from Suitland, Md. It was Ford's third consecutive double-double, the first time he has done that in his career. If he turns the trick tonight against Georgia Tech, he would be the first Tiger to have four in a row since Harold Jamison had four straight in 1998-99;
- Ford needs three points to reach the 1,000-mark for his career. When he does he will become the 29th player in Clemson history to reach that figure. He has averaged 21.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per game over his last three contests and has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 11 games;
- Clemson has beaten Georgia Tech in Littlejohn Coliseum more often than any other school. The Tigers have a 25-7 lead in the series in games played in the current home of the Tigers.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger and TigerNet. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.