CLEMSON - Clemson's back home. Finally.
Last gracing Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 18, the Tigers struggled through trips north to Pittsburgh (76-43 loss) and UNC (80-61 loss), before regaining form on the defensive end in a 53-49 win over Florida State on Saturday.
Incoming is Georgia Tech (12-10, 3-6 ACC) for an 8 p.m. tip, where the Tigers can reach six wins in their first nine ACC games for only the seventh time in school history (currently 14-6, 5-3).
Tigers finally return home
"We're certainly glad to be here and not traveling again," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "We've been traveling. I think the win at Florida State rejuvenates you a little bit."
The ups and downs of just the conference season have been seismic, grabbing three road wins in five tries and a 13-point home 'W' over ranked Duke, but the three defeats coming by 22 points a game.
"To fans and media, certain wins are great and roller-coasters up," said Brownell, "and then you have a bad week and it roller-coasters down. You lose a game everybody thinks you should win, and people are quick to lose confidence in you. It's all natural. It's not something that anybody's upset about. It's an emotional roller-coaster."
Clemson sits in fifth place in the conference standings, but can improve this week to as high as third going into a matchup Sunday at No. 1 Syracuse. Happy to be back in their own beds and on their own court, looking ahead to that one shouldn't be an issue.
"It's important to protect our home court," sophomore guard Jordan Roper said. "Get another win to keep the momentum building and build our confidence. We said we wanted to get our nasty back. I think we achieved that. Getting wins and building up and home-court advantage is very important in college basketball. It's good to come home."
Lost in the previous two-game slide was any semblance of defense – after carrying a No. 1 total and field goal percentage 'D' in. Saturday in Tallahassee, Clemson held Florida State to 34 percent shooting – 31 missed shots and 1-of-8 from the perimeter.
Proving some pregame theories, the better defensive effort lent to an improved offensive outing, shooting 57 percent in the second half.
"Those past two games that were blowouts, just as players and as a coaching staff we felt like we didn't play with the same intensity as we did before," Roper said. "We played hard, but defensively we weren't as aggressive. And offensively, we obviously weren't as aggressive.
"In the Florida State game we got some of that back. Defensively we were stingy. We held them down in the second half. We shot a higher percentage in the second half."
The Tigers are 9-1 with a 21-point average margin of victory at home this season, but Georgia Tech has proved to be tough-out on the road.
They come off a 79-70 win at Wake Forest, where redshirt senior center Daniel Miller posted 16 points and 14 rebounds. Sophomore guard Marcus Georges-Hunt scored a team-high and his season-high, 23 points. The Yellow Jackets won by eight against Boston College and took N.C. State to overtime also on the road.
Tigers return home after tough stretch
"They're playing better," Brownell said. "They have three fifth-year seniors, which is great. That's one of the reasons they play well on the road. They have been through it. Those guys are not going to see anything they haven't seen before."
If Clemson had a senior class, they would have a chance to go undefeated in this particular series – winners of seven-straight over Georgia Tech. That includes three wins in Atlanta in three different venues, returning to the McCamish Pavilion on Feb. 22.
Brownell is 6-0 against Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory in ACC play. The two coached in the same city (Dayton, Oh.) for four years at Wright State and Dayton respectively, before their current stops, but the two D-1 schools didn't play each other once (and haven't since 1997).
The Tigers are seeking a milestone 500th win in Littlejohn Coliseum, which opened in 1968. The first win? Also Georgia Tech, 76-72.