Tigers take momentum back on the road to GT

Clemson's K.J. McDaniels returns a ball off the rim into the basket against N.C. State during the second half at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson. N.C. State's BeeJay Anya, left, and Clemson's Landry Nnoko watch.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's K.J. McDaniels returns a ball off the rim into the basket against N.C. State during the second half at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson. N.C. State's BeeJay Anya, left, and Clemson's Landry Nnoko watch.

CLEMSON – As deemed rivals by the ACC, Clemson and Georgia Tech play twice a year on the hardwood, while the rest of the conference slate remains unbalanced.

That makes the Tigers' run in the series all that more impressive.

Going into Saturday's noon tip at McCamish Pavilion, Clemson coach Brad Brownell hasn't lost to the Yellow Jackets, extending the streak to eight wins back on Feb. 4. In fact, Tech (13-13, 4-9 ACC) has lost 14-of-18 to the Tigers (16-9, 7-6) going back to 2006.

Third-year coach Brian Gregory says it's an under-valued regional fight.

"If you look at it, other than a year or two – over the last eight years they've been successful in this league," he said. "Maybe they don't get the credit they deserve on that. It's an important game. Our guys, it's close enough and we recruit a lot of their guys and they recruit a lot of our guys. Our guys understand that this is (important)."

Four of the last five matchups have been decided by four or less points.

"They've made the plays at the end of games," said Gregory, "whether it's a free throw or defensive stop or make a big basket. Rod Hall's playing extremely well right now and he had one basket in that game and it was with a minute and a half to go.

"We got two or three crucial stops and weren't able to capitalize on the other end. When teams are relatively evenly matched, it comes down to making plays at the end of games."

Clemson's tempo has played a factor of late, with Georgia Tech held to 60 or less points in four-straight games. Gregory, however, is expecting an offensive boost with sophomore forward Robert Carter (knee) and senior guard Trae Golden (groin) back.

Both have averaged double-figures scoring this season – and also missed the Feb. 4 game, where the Yellow Jackets had seven scholarship players in a 45-41 loss.

"If you look at the track record, I would expect more of the same (tempo)," Gregory said. "Hopefully we'll be able to score more points. With Trae getting a little bit better every day – I think he's seen really good progress. With Robert (too), we'll have more offensive weapons out there."

With teams around them fading, Clemson has a legitimate shot to position themselves as high as a No. 5 seed in Greensboro's ACC Tournament.

The road to a NCAA Tournament bid is much steeper, with an RPI in the 70s and a strength of schedule in the 90s. Tuesday's 73-56 win over N.C. State was their second-best 'W' of the year (RPI of 56).

Both ESPN and CBS project Pittsburgh (20-6, 8-5) as the last of five ACC bids currently, without an ACC team in their first left out. The Panthers have an RPI of 33.

But for a team picked 14 out of 15 in conference preseason, Clemson's in a pretty good position with road games at Tech and Wake Forest before a season-closing three game homestand.

"The thing that our guys deserve credit for is playing hard," Brownell said. "We’ve played hard most nights, given ourselves opportunities, competed and we’ve been together and stuck together. Obviously some guys have gotten a little bit better. Guys have accepted their roles.

"We’re far from a really good team, but we are a competitive team that when we play well and have some offensive spurts, we can be a challenge and 13 games in (ACC play), we have proven that.”

Going forward, Brownell will take most everything out of Tuesday's effort - from a 19th team held to 60 or less to the 48 percent shooting and three in double-figures scoring. Rod Hall put up a career-high 20, going 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

"It was a good performance and N.C. State (was) a good team," Brownell said. "We handled the game most of the game. It was one of our best performances. We played well on both ends.”

A win in the Atlanta can keep Clemson on track to tie the school's ACC road win record (5, 1986-87), at 3-4 on the year so far. In 7-of-8 seasons with at least three conference road victories, the Tigers have finished above .500 in ACC play.

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