Thoughts and observations from Georgia Tech’s 69-65 overtime loss to Clemson at the ACC tournament. Game story here.
1. Tech’s most fatal flaw cost the Yellow Jackets again. Up 49-40 with 7:51 to play, Tech scored two points on its next 10 possessions, a span of about seven minutes, to allow Clemson to take a 55-51 lead going into the final minute of regulation.
An inability to score over an extended period of time, as has been noted in this space more than once, has been Tech’s undoing in several games, extending at least as far back as the Vanderbilt loss and repeating itself in losses to N.C. State, Virginia, Clemson while also making wins over Notre Dame and Boston College more difficult than necessary.
“Unfortunately, you’ve got to figure out a way to make a play or two down the stretch to win the game or make a couple free throws,” coach Brian Gregory said. “A rebound here or a free throw here. That’s the difference.”
2. Here’s a critical number – from the time forward Marcus Georges-Hunt hustled for an offensive rebound and putback to put Tech up 49-40 with 7:51 to go to the time that center Daniel Miller grabbed Trae Golden’s missed drive in the final seconds of regulation and tied the game with a clutch fallaway jumper, the Jackets didn’t have a single offensive rebound on nine missed shots, either free throws or field-goal attempts. Clemson had three offensive rebounds for four points.
There were a lot of ways you could spell out the difference in the game, but that certainly would be one.
“I think (the difference) was them getting second shots, us not limiting them to one shot,” Georges-Hunt said. “That’s how they get most of their points, off transition, rebounds and free throws. They really couldn’t score on us in the half-court offense.”
3. Tech also damaged its chances towards the end of the first half. Up 20-15, Tech had two possessions to push the lead to seven or eight. The first, Carter missed on a drive. The second, Miller rebounded the ball but turned it over in the backcourt, and Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels made both ends of a one-and-one to cut the lead to 20-17.
Miller pushed the lead back to five with a dunk off a nice feed from Chris Bolden. Tech forced a stop and Miller rebounded but fell backwards and lost control of the ball. Clemson got the steal and scored on a McDaniels tip-in to cut the lead to 22-19. On Tech’s next possession, Carter traveled. Clemson answered with a 3-pointer – due to foul trouble, Tech was playing zone, something it does infrequently, and Jordan Roper got free in the corner on a missed assignment – to tie the game at 22.
That’s seven points off three turnovers. Teams will make runs over the course of a game, and the Jackets still managed to go into halftime up 29-27 on Carter’s only 3-pointer of the game, but the Jackets squandered the opportunity to extend the lead further. One thing Tech had done better recently was limit turnovers (and in so doing, extra chances for the opposition). Clemson scored 16 points off 10 Tech turnovers. The Jackets had nine points on 11 Clemson turnovers.
“The game of basketball is a game of mistakes,” Gregory said. “We just made a couple more than they did and it cost us. When you play a good team, those are the things that you need to eliminate. It’s usually not the plays that are made (that make the difference). More times than not, in those kind of games, it’s mistakes that are made, missing a free throw, missing a cut-out, whatever the case may be. So our guys have got to learn from that.”
4. Another big difference – Tech was 11-for-20 from the free-throw line and Clemson was 25-for-29. McDaniels was 10-for-11 from the line. If you’re wondering, Tech missed just one front end of a one-and-one.
The Jackets overall were better from the free-throw line this season, 68.4 percent after shooting 63.5 percent last year and 65.4 percent two years ago, but it was obviously costly Thursday.
“They were getting to the line and knocking them down, something we weren’t doing,” Georges-Hunt said.
5. Forward Kammeon Holsey was, in my opinion, Tech’s best player over the two days. In 38 minutes, he scored 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting, had 11 rebounds, stayed out of foul trouble and sealed the Boston College game with four free throws at the end of overtime. He was active, relentless and showed good touch away from the rim.
Gregory said that Holsey had been receiving injections into his knee to ease the discomfort in his surgically repaired knee, something he said was “almost like a loosening fluid. He’s been as healthy as he’s been probably in two months. He was moving pretty good. He did some good things for us the last two nights.”
He was not on the floor for the final 7:26 of regulation and played only 54 seconds in overtime, as Gregory elected to go with Carter and Miller. Given the success that Carter and Miller have had together, I’d say it was the right choice in the moment, but it’s one of those things that’s easy to wonder about in hindsight.
6. Tech did a commendable job defending McDaniels, a first-team All-ACC selection. He was 4-for-15 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range, but ended up with 18 because he was able to get to the free-throw line 11 times. He also turned the ball over five times. Georges-Hunt defended him much of the game, although he was on the floor less than usual due to foul trouble.
In three games against Tech, McDaniels shot 30.2 percent from the field, did not make any of his 14 3-point attempts and turned the ball over 11 times. In 16 games against the rest of the league, he shot 45.6 percent from the field, 30.8 percent from 3-point range and averaged 2.4 turnovers. Georges-Hunt gets a good bit of credit for that, I think.
7. Carter was 5-for-21, including 1-for-6 from 3-point range, for 13 points. He had nine rebounds. It was a career high in field-goal attempts. There were two 3-pointers he took when Tech had lost control of the game that I sort were premature and probably not the right shot given the situation.
But Carter had been shooting so well – he was 7-for-15 against Boston College and 7-for-9 against Virginia Tech – it’s hard to begrudge him shots. Of his 16 misses, I suppose they would have been good shots if they’d gone in.
“I just think we didn’t make the plays we needed to win,” Carter said.
8. It was not a good tournament for Miller, a forgettable conclusion to his All-ACC season. He scored four points on 2-for-7 shooting against Clemson, with nine rebounds (four offensive) and four turnovers after scoring five with five rebounds against Boston College. He faced a lot of double teams against Boston College, and Clemson also defended the post well, limiting his opportunities.
“It wasn’t a good night for me,” he said.
He did score the clutch game-tying basket with .8 seconds left, a shot that perhaps would have earned a place in Tech’s history had the Jackets been able to finish the deal in overtime, a turnaround, fadeway jumper with a hand in his face.
“I knew that was going in since I hadn’t hit one all day,” he said.
For better or worse, the shot that will be remembered will be his missed dunk on a wide-open opportunity midway through overtime. It would have given Tech a 62-58 lead.
“I don’t know,” he said, asked what happened. “I guess I wasn’t looking at the rim, I was looking more at (Landry) Nnoko. I just couldn’t finish. I couldn’t believe it. I feel like I let the team down on that one, because I think that might have sealed the deal.”
Said Golden, “It wasn’t the dunk (that cost the game), because it was plays that led up to where we shouldn’t have even been in overtime. It’s not the dunk. It’s not Dan. Dan saved the day (at the end of regulation). Can’t complain about that.”
9. Here’s the thing, though. When a team – any team – loses, it’s logical to point out the reasons it lost. And for Tech, there were many. On the other hand, the Jackets took the No. 6 seed to overtime. It was, essentially, an even game, an outcome decided to some degree by chance. There were probably just as many reasons Clemson could have lost as Tech had, and similarly a number of reasons the Jackets could have won. (The exact same could be said, obviously, of the Tech-Boston College game Wednesday night.)
Georges-Hunt played an effective game at both ends. Tech held Clemson to 37.0 percent shooting from the field and defended the ACC player of the year far better than most teams have this season. The Jackets were one play away from scoring the biggest upset of the tournament thus far and earning a shot at Duke in a quarterfinal Friday night.
“Tough game,” Carter said. “Had one like it yesterday, we won. Had one like it today, we lost.”