Tigers lose heartbreaker in ACC Tournament, now await NCAA destination
Trevor Booker scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Tigers. (Photos: fotoman)
ATLANTA – A once-promising season has gone awry, and if the Clemson Tigers are to find any redemption, they will have to find it in the unforgiving NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers lost for the sixth time in their last 10 games, the latest a shocking 86-81 defeat to 12th-seeded Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament on Thursday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, sending the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament searching for answers.
Lewis Clinch scored a game-high 32 points and grabbed six rebounds for Tech, while Gani Lawal chipped in with 20 points and 14 boards and Alade Aminu had 12 points for the Jackets, who will now play No. 4 seed Florida State in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Tigers must sit back and wait for their name to be called by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Sunday evening, and head coach Oliver Purnell will need to try and find some of the earlier magic or the Tigers will face a similarly quick exit in the NCAA’s.
“We are going to talk about when we were a good team,” Purnell said of trying to find that magic. “It is just up to us to believe in ourselves. We have to flip that switch at some point. It has been long enough.”
The Tigers slipped behind early in the first half, but Terrence Oglesby hit a 3-pointer with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half to give Clemson a 24-19 lead. The Yellow Jackets rallied, however, and the score was tied at 39 at the half.
“I thought we had a chance after the eight-minute mark of the first half to get a little separation, but we missed too many shots,” Purnell said. “When we didn’t get back in transition, they shot a couple of layups. I thought that was a critical point.”
The Yellow Jackets scored the first eight points of the second half before and held as much as a 13-point lead with just four minutes left on the game clock, when the Tigers made a final run.
Clemson captain K.C. Rivers and Oglesby hit back-to-back 3-pointers to help Clemson pull within 79-75 with 1:09 remaining, but Ian Shumpert hit two frees with 12.5 seconds left to give Tech a six-point win and effectively shut the door on the Clemson comeback.
“They had nothing to lose and were out there enjoying themselves,” Rivers said. “They’d make a mistake and have a smirk on their face and were patting each other on the back. We’d make a mistake and we seemed scared and tentative to do anything else. They wanted it more than we did. We didn’t give it our all. You have to give them credit, they played their hearts out.”
Rivers then said the Tigers have to go back to the way they were playing earlier in the season if they are to have any shot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got to find what it is that got us going before, that ‘I don’t care’ attitude where we just played ball and went out and had fun,” Rivers said. “It doesn’t seem like we’re having fun anymore, doesn’t seem like we’re enjoying it at all. We’ve got to get that excitement back.”
Trevor Booker scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Tigers, but seemed unable to stop any of the Tech inside game, registering zero blocks in the contest. Five other players scored in double figures for Clemson – Rivers (11), Oglesby (11), Demontez Stitt (11), Raymond Sikes (11) and Tanner Smith (10). The Tigers were just 10-for-28 from beyond the arc, and hit just 9-of-17 free throws (52.9%). They were out-rebounded 36-29.