Clemson and Georgia Tech survived wild finishes over the weekend in order to avoid letdowns and win.
Only one team will be able to win Tuesday night when the No. 17 Tigers visit the 19th-ranked Yellow Jackets in ACC play.
Clemson (15-3, 3-1), which has won nine of 10, appeared to be cruising to a third consecutive victory Saturday, but needed two big defensive stops in the final seconds to beat North Carolina State 73-70 in what center Jerai Grant called “maybe the most important win of the year for us.”
The Tigers never trailed, but almost saw their 21-point lead evaporate when the Wolfpack’s Julius Mays had two 3-pointers rim out during the final five seconds, including one at the buzzer.
“We wanted (this game) more. We dug deep,” said Grant, who had 11 points and had a key block on a layup with 35 seconds left and Clemson clinging to a one-point lead. “We couldn’t let that first-half lead go to waste.”
The Yellow Jackets (13-4, 2-2) also survived a scare Saturday. They blew a 20-point halftime lead before forward Zachery Peacock hit a shot with 25.7 seconds to play to give them a 73-71 win over then-No. 12 North Carolina.
Georgia Tech and the Tar Heels exchanged the lead seven times in the final 4 1/2 minutes before the Yellow Jackets clinched their first victory at Chapel Hill since 1996.
“It shows our toughness,” said Peacock, who had six points on 3-for-10 shooting. “To come into a tough environment like this and get a win, it just shows how tough we are. Our problem is being consistent, which we’re not too far away from.”
While Peacock came up with the clutch basket Saturday, Iman Shumpert posted a career-high 30 points while sinking 10 of 17 shots as he appears to be fully recovered from knee surgery, which forced him to miss six games last month.
The sophomore guard, who is averaging 10.9 points and a team-high 4.2 assists, had totaled 40 points in his first four games back from the surgery, including a 15-point effort in an 82-75 loss at Virginia on Wednesday.
“It’s great to see Iman Shumpert getting back into shape and regaining his form after his layoff from knee surgery,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “That was his fifth game back from the surgery, and I think he’s finally getting back where he was before he got hurt.”
Georgia Tech may need a better performance from Gani Lawal on Tuesday after he was held to 12 points for a second consecutive game, making 5 of 15 shots and grabbing 12 rebounds against North Carolina.
On the season, the junior forward is shooting 54.3 percent, while leading the team with 15.2 points and 9.2 boards per game.
Lawal had 20 points and 14 rebounds to lead Georgia Tech to an 86-81 victory over Clemson - also ranked 17th then - in the first round of the ACC tournament on March 12.
Clemson swept the regular-season series last year, including an 81-73 win in Atlanta on Feb. 22 behind forward Trevor Booker’s 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Booker, now a senior, leads the Tigers with averages of 15.4 points and 8.3 rebounds. He scored 20 points against North Carolina State.