The fine line between the top and bottom half of the balanced, or perhaps muddled, ACC was on display Thursday night when Clemson and Georgia Tech clashed for the second time in a two-week span.
The Yellow Jackets' struggle with consistency continued, while the Tigers broke their pattern of narrow losses and found a way to win via some late-game playmaking.
The end result was a 56-53 Clemson victory that boosted the Tigers' record to 5-7 in conference play and provided Brad Brownell's team with a needed emotional boost heading into what it hopes is a Sunday evening ambush of No. 3 Miami.
After the game, Brownell and Yellow Jackets' coach Brian Gregory gave their take on the contest:
In Brad Brownell's View
Overall thoughts on the game: “It was a really good win for our guys, bouncing back after the heartbreak against N.C. State. We needed that win a lot for our psyche. I’m really happy for Milton Jennings for his free throw down the stretch, then to get the big block and a rebound last minute. I thought he made three good plays there to help us win – a good win for our guys.”
On shooting 60 percent in the second half: “Both teams shot better in the second half. Sometimes the defense slips a little bit when guys start making baskets. When you make baskets occasionally you can let up a little bit. Both teams started scoring a little bit so it became a different game in the second half. Both teams really struggled in the first half and the defense is good. Both teams are in the right spot a lot, but you’re playing teams a second time and there are things you’re run. Players got to make plays.”
On the defense making plays at the end: “It was just good that we got a stop at the end. We needed to. There were a couple other possessions we needed to get stops and we didn’t. We shouldn’t have been in that position. There were some hand checking calls and things of that nature, and it makes it really hard when your head makes you feel like it’s really hard to guard him. They’re putting their head down and driving to the rim. It was good for our guys just to figure out a way to get a stop when we needed one."
On Tech having a hard time with Devin Booker’s physicality: “Well he’s a big strong guy. I think their guys are pretty strong too. We had some trouble with them when they got in deep as well. Devin is a good player. He’s really improved over the last year. He’s gotten more comfortable and confident out there. He certainly isn’t afraid to mix it up a little bit. We needed everything he did, and obviously he played 39 minutes for us.”
On getting a road win in ACC play: “It’s good. We’ve been close a couple of times. Heartbreak at Florida State, where we led almost the entire game and then right there at NC State with a minute to go, really the last possession we had a chance to tie. We’ve been knocking on the door a couple times and it’s good to finally get through it and get one. It’s hard. Georgia Tech is playing well now, so it’s a good win for us.”
Georgia Tech's Brian Gregory
"Our biggest challenge, and has been since league play started, is being able to maintain and sustain a consistent effort and execution at both ends of the court. Unfortunately, we’re at a point right now to do that.
"When we do put both of those together, a solid defensive effort with good offensive execution, we’re pretty good. When we don’t, like the first half today where our defense was pretty good and our offense wasn’t, it puts us in a deep hole.
"You turn around in the second half and offensively, 38 points is pretty good. We shot 54 percent from the field, 8-11 from the free throw line, we were good offensively. The problem was, we turned around and let the other team shoot 62 percent against us from the field. It’s going to be hard to win those games. We have to realize that, we have to understand that, embrace that as a challenge and continue to move forward.
"We just couldn’t guard anybody in the second half. They shot 62 percent. We couldn’t guard them in the post, we couldn’t guard them on the dribble and we couldn’t guard them from the three. As a program that’s the challenge. That’s where we’re at, and we’re making steps, but it’s where we’re at right now. Defense should keep you in the game. As your offense does better things in the second half, you’ve got to win the game still because of your defense.
"At this point I can’t waste time with ‘What ifs?' What we’ve got to do is practice tomorrow and get better tomorrow and just keep plugging away. That’s the thing about building a program; it isn’t going to be easy. I wish it was. With where we’re at and where we want to get to, it’s going to be hard”.