No. 13 Clemson beats Georgia Tech 81-73
ATLANTA (AP)—Trevor Booker believes Clemson is playing well enough to win the ACC regular-season title.
Never mind that the 13th-ranked Tigers are tied for second place and one loss behind North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference lead.
“I think North Carolina is still catchable,” Booker said. “All we have to do is keep winning and hope someone takes them out.”
Booker had 21 points and 12 rebounds to lead Clemson, which overcame a 15-point deficit in an 81-73 victory over Georgia Tech on Sunday.
The Tigers (22-4, 8-4) have won six of eight and improved to 9-0 this season when Booker has a double-double.
Clemson started sluggishly before its full-court pressure eventually exhausted the Yellow Jackets, giving the Tigers easier looks at the basket.
Hitting nearly 60 percent of 27 field goal attempts in the second half, Clemson’s biggest boost came from reserve freshman Andre Young, who hit all four of his 3-point attempts.
“They were on a run in the second half,” Booker said. “We battled back and came on strong. Young did a great job coming off the bench.”
Georgia Tech (10-16, 1-12) has lost six straight and 11 of 12 to remain in the ACC cellar, three losses behind 11th-place Virginia.
“One of our goals was to hold them to six 3s,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said. “They made 12, and they outshot us at the free throw line by two. That was the difference in the game. I don’t think the pressure bothered us at all. I thought our turnovers came after having a very smooth start and executing against the press to gain that big lead. It was just some miscues in the halfcourt.”
K.C. Rivers, who had 19 points, gave Clemson the lead for good with a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the second half.
“In the first half, we were not into it, but we came back and tied it at the half,” Rivers said. “In the second half, we were on fire. Our defense was clicking.”
The Tigers are 17-1 when outrebounding opponents this season and 32-4 over the last two. Clemson’s four ACC road wins are its most since 1996-97.
“We were playing with a certain confidence,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “We were executing fairly well. We got the ball to Booker an awful lot, and were getting it out of there was they doubled across.”
Lewis Clinch had a career-high 27 points for the Yellow Jackets, who got within 46-45 on his 3 with 14:32 remaining.
Sweeping the season series with Georgia Tech for the first time since 2005-06 and for the second time in 12 years, Clemson led 75-65 with 1:50 remaining on Booker’s rebound dunk. The play brought loud cheers from the approximately 1,500 Clemson fans at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Georgia Tech had won nine of 11 home games against the Tigers and 20 of 26.
“I think we’ve been playing hard all year,” Hewitt said. “Last couple of games, our effort was even, but I thought our effort was good again today.”
Clemson, which returned to the NCAA tournament last March for the first time in nine years, is a combined 46-14 the last two seasons, 18-10 in the ACC.
With four games remaining before Clemson returns to Atlanta for the conference tournament at the Georgia Dome, Purnell knows the Tigers can’t afford to keep starting slowly.
“I guess the positive thing is our guys don’t get rattled,” Purnell said. “I’ve seen five or six times when we got off to good starts, and I’d like to see that more often.”
North Carolina’s overtime loss Saturday at Maryland gave Clemson a chance to stay close to the top of the ACC, but Purnell recognizes there’s a lot of work still ahead.
“When that happened yesterday, we talked to our team last night,” he said. “We are in the stretch run, and they are sitting right there in front of us. We can see them plainly, but the bottom line is that you still have to take care of your business.”