Georgia Tech did enough to win, but also made enough mistakes to lose, which was enough for No. 15 Clemson to send the Yellow Jackets to a 75-67 defeat Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum. It was Tech’s seventh defeat in a row and 11th in the past 12.
Tech (11-18, 4-12 ACC) succumbed by permitting a 14-0 run late in the game after holding a 61-55 lead with 5:43 to play. Clemson (21-7, 10-6) broke a three-game losing streak.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. The losing continues
Tech’s seven-game losing streak ties for the team’s longest since the 2005-06 season, when the Jackets lost eight in a row en route to an 11-17 season. The Jackets’ 1-11 slide ties for the worst record in a 12-game stretch since the 1980-81 season, when Tech was 0-14 in ACC play in coach Dwane Morrison’s final season. Tech was 1-12 over a 13-game span during the 2008-09 season, when the Jackets finished 12-19.
Tech has played the past four games without starting point guard Jose Alvarado and the past eight without shooting guard Curtis Haywood, who had been a starter in the non-conference season before his season was derailed by a shin injury.
“We’ve just got to win,” guard Josh Okogie said. “We say this, we say that – defense, offense, the ball going in, free throws – but at the end of the day, we’ve just got to find a way to win.”
Further, Tech has now lost 13 games in a row on Clemson’s court. In eight seasons, Tigers coach Brad Brownell is 14-4 against the Jackets and 52-68 against the rest of the ACC.
“It seems like we always end up having a lead on Clemson and they come back some way or another,” center Ben Lammers said.
2. When the game was lost
Tech led 46-35 when guard Tadric Jackson found Okogie for an alley-oop layup with 17:31 to play in the game. The Jackets had the momentum and the chance to put the game out of reach and earn a big road win with another push.
Tech did the job on defense, getting three consecutive stops after that basket, but did nothing to add to the lead. Okogie missed a tip-in – his first miss of the game, then was called for a charge (disputed by coach Josh Pastner after the game) and then Jackson turned the ball over trying to thread the needle to Lammers on a screen-and-roll.
Clemson finally answered with a traditional three-point play to cut the lead to eight. Forward Evan Cole answered with a 3-pointer, but the Jackets missed their chance, and a team that has become accustomed to winning found its footing and slowly eroded Tech’s lead.
“That was a big stretch,” Pastner said.
3. Great play from Okogie
Okogie turned in one of his top games of the season. He scored 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range, along with eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. He made his first seven shots and first three 3-point attempts before finally missing a tip-in early in the second half.
“I was just locked in,” Okogie said. “I took shots that I usually take and then went in, so I kept shooting.”
Largely through his efforts, Tech played through some sluggishness on offense in the first half to take a 37-33 halftime lead. Playing all 20 minutes of the first half, Okogie scored 17 points on 6-for-6 shooting and assisted on three 3-pointers, one of which was enabled by one of his offensive rebounds. The rest of the team shot 7-for-21 in the first half.
After struggling at the point in place of the injured Alvarado for two games, Okogie looks more himself back at the shooting-guard spot with Jackson handling most of the point responsibility.
4. Fouls a factor
Pastner typically is reserved in his comments on officiating to avoid getting fined by the league, but openly disagreed on a couple of foul calls on Okogie, a charge and a defensive foul when he was attempting to tie up Clemson guard Gabe DeVoe on a loose ball on the floor.
In one of his more productive games of the season, Okogie missed about 4-1/2 minutes in the second half after drawing his fourth foul.
“I thought it was a tie-up,” Pastner said. “They called a foul on him. The other referee closer to our bench had a jump ball, but it is what it is.”
Said Okogie, “(DeVoe) went down and I went for the ball. I didn’t really touch him. I hovered over him, and they said it was a foul because I was over him. I’ve never seen that one before, but, like I said, you’ve got to live with it and move on.”
Lammers said the game was called more closely than normal.
“When they call the little ticky-tack stuff, it takes the whole game off of its rhythm, so it’s not as fun, at least for me,” he said.
Tech was called for 25 fouls – three of them intentionally in the final 30 seconds – well above its ACC average of 16.2 fouls per game. Clemson, however, was whistled 16 times. ACC teams were averaging 15.9 fouls per game against Tech. Clemson was 24-for-30 from the line – six on intentional fouls – while Tech was 10-for-12.
Freshmen Cole and Moses Wright started together for the second game in a row as Pastner decided to limit forward Abdoulaye Gueye’s minutes again. Given that the two were placed on a “redshirt” program in mid-January to develop their skills and strength because their minutes were so limited that Pastner wanted to get some utility out of the season for them, they’re doing OK.
They contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds Saturday. Cole made a big 3-pointer early in the second half on a pass from Wright to push Tech’s lead to 11 points. Also in the second half, Wright used his length to intercept a Clemson pass that led to a transition basket for another 11-point lead. However, they both were foul-prone (both fouled out) and were exploited on defense.
They’re contributing with effective play, but also making freshman mistakes.
“There’s been a lot of changes going on, but the guys that have had their numbers called to step up have been stepping up,” Lammers said. “It’s been very impressive. I know freshman year, whenever I went in, it was daunting.”