Clemson beat Georgia Tech on a basket in the final seconds in January to remain the nation’s last undefeated team. After being on the wrong end of two late winning shots recently, the Tigers look to get back on track when they visit the Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
James Mays’ layup with 2.2 seconds remaining lifted Clemson to a 75-74 victory over Georgia Tech on Jan. 6, its 16th straight victory to open the season. The No. 25 Tigers (18-4, 4-4 ACC) tacked on one more win to match the 1986-87 squad for the best start in school history at 17-0, but have since dropped four of five games.
The last two defeats have been especially tough. Clemson held a comfortable lead midway through the second half Sunday, but allowed Virginia to score the final 15 points, including a game-winning tip-in by Jason Cain with 15.5 seconds remaining, in a 64-63 defeat.
“We have to get it back together,” Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. “This one will hurt, but we have to rejuvenate and fight on.”
The one before that hurt too, as Clemson fell 68-66 to then-No. 10 Duke on Jan. 25. The Tigers tied it on Vernon Hamilton’s 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left, but a timekeeping error led the officials to put 4.4 seconds on the clock - giving the Blue Devils’ David McClure time to hit a layup as time expired.
The Tigers’ dismal free-throw shooting, however, is largely to blame for their 1-4 stretch. They made only nine of 16 foul shots against the Cavaliers, and are a stunning 32-for-68 (47.1 percent) on free throws in the last five games.
Clemson is shooting an ACC-worst 58.8 percent from the line on the season.
“Right now in the locker room, everybody’s got their head down, everybody’s pretty hurt,” Mays said after Sunday’s loss. “But we can’t dwell on it. We’ve got a lot more we want to do.”
Hamilton scored a team-high 16 points against Virginia and Cliff Hammonds added 13, but leading scorer K.C. Rivers was held to single digits for the third time in four games, finishing with six points. Rivers, a reserve who’s averaging 13.8 points this season, has been held to 7.8 over the past four contests.
He’ll look to rebound in the matchup with the Yellow Jackets, against whom he scored 20 points in the Jan. 6 win, one of his four 20-point performances this season.
Clemson has won the last three meetings with Georgia Tech, narrowing the Yellow Jackets’ lead in the series to 55-53.
Georgia Tech (13-8, 2-6) has dropped a season-high four in a row, including an 85-75 loss to Wake Forest on Tuesday. Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey each scored 14 points, while Thaddeus Young and Anthony Morrow added 13 apiece for the Yellow Jackets, who pulled within four points with less than five minutes left.
“We started out pretty well. That is something we haven’t done well this year,” Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “We just had that one stretch in the first half where we took some bad shots, turned it over and didn’t guard. We fought and we put out a great effort.”
Georgia Tech is 11-1 at home this season, but 2-4 overall against ranked opponents.