Turning close losses into wins
CLEMSON — Clemson football reversed its recent Atlanta woes last season with bookend wins in the Georgia Dome against SEC opponents.
Clemson basketball hasn’t had the same issues in the ATL though, topping Georgia Tech 65-56 in Alexander Memorial Coliseum and 56-37 in Philips Arena last season during construction of their new basketball arena.
But in McCamish Pavilion Thursday, the Tigers (12-11, 4-7 ACC) do hope to break free from a three-game losing streak and steal their first ACC road win of the season.
Clemson has won six-straight in the series and seeks a third-straight season-sweep of the Yellow Jackets (13-9, 3-7), after downing them 63-60 in Littlejohn Coliseum back on Jan. 29.
Since the loss, Georgia Tech has won two of their last three games, beating Virginia (66-60 at home) and Virginia Tech (64-54 on the road) and losing on a buzzer-beater layup at home versus Florida State, 56-54.
"Georgia Tech’s playing well, coming off a nice win at Virginia Tech," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "(They’re) a big strong physical team. I think their young guys are gaining confidence … We have to find a way to win a road game and this is the next one."
Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory doesn’t have a starter averaging double-figures in ACC play, but has five players scoring at least nine points a game, led by forwards Robert Carter (9.6) and Kammeon Holsey (9.6).
The Tigers’ task is to recover from a fourth loss by five points or less in conference play, losing on a last-second three-pointer to N.C. State at home on Sunday. Brownell says he takes games like that harder than players, and with a young roster, is balancing encouragement and criticism.
"We’ve played well enough to prove that we can play with a lot of people," Brownell says he’s told his team. "But (you) also to point out the margin for winning and losing is very small. A couple of mistakes at different parts of the game are critical and at times they can be devastating. Those can be the ones that lose the game for you."
Brownell said Clemson has had its moments of showing "flashes of really good basketball," but they’ve come between and before pitfalls.
"We haven’t been good enough nor shown the patience, resolve or poise in a lot of things to fight through adversity some times," he said. "We’ve struggled with that. That’s a problem."
If the Tigers are to end their road win woes, avoiding their almost-patented slow start is a must.
They have averaged 18.8 points and shot under 30 percent in the first half of conference away contests, and only led at the half against Florida State (29-21). In turn, ACC opponents have shot almost 50 percent against a typically stout defense.
Turnovers have been the talk in practice of late, averaging 17 per game in the last three outings.
"That’s something we have to correct," Brownell said. "We’re not good enough to have 10-11-12 turnovers in a game."
Freshman guard Jordan Roper, coming off a career-high 17 points against N.C. State, says confident passing has been the issue.
"Coach Brownell talks about being 100 percent sure when you’re passing," Roper said. "Make good passes and know what you’re doing when you pick up your dribble to make a pass. Sometimes I don’t do that myself, but that’s what we all have to do."
Senior Tigers forward Milton Jennings led all scorers with 15 points in the win in Atlanta last year, but hasn’t been in a rhythm of late.
Since scoring a career-high 28 points against Virginia Tech on Jan. 27, he hasn’t scored that much combined in the last four games (27).
Jennings is one of three Tigers averaging double-figures in ACC action (10), joined by Devin Booker (13.4) and K.J. McDaniels (11.1).
In win over the Yellow Jackets this season, McDaniels led the Tigers with 15 points and sunk two late free throws to force a desperation three-pointer that was off-the-mark.
He has been the consistent force of late, scoring in double-digits in five of his last six games, and has blocked at least one shot in 13-straight, averaging 2.1 per on the season (second in the ACC).
Clemson and Georgia Tech tips off at 7 p.m.