January 19, 2010

Jackets win home thriller over Clemson

The Thriller Dome lived up to its name as Georgia Tech escaped with a two point victory over the 17th ranked Clemson Tigers by a score of 66-64. Zachery Peacock came up big on two foul shots to regain the lead with three seconds left on the clock after Tech had only shot 9 for 20 from the free throw line prior to that point. The Jackets were paced by 17 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocked shots from freshman sensation, Derrick Favors.

Coach Paul Hewitt gave Favors high praise after the game by saying, "He's getting more comfortable and I think that he is going to have a big second half. Tonight you saw another step forward and I think that he is going to keep getting better and better. People are not going to be able to push him around and frustrate him like they did early in the year and he is starting to get more composure about his game in the low post."

The game started out at a frenetic pace with each team deploying a full court press after every made basket. The difference in the first half turned out to be Tech's ability to beat the press and find Favors and Gani Lawal in transition. The two players combined for 21 points and 10 rebounds on 10-14 shooting to give the Jackets a six point cushion when the horn sounded. They had six dunks in the first half, with enough highlight reels plays to fill up an entire segment of Sportscenter.

The second half started with more of the same as the Jackets extended their lead to nine points after two dunks by Favors and Lawal and a three pointer by Iman Shumpert. From then on, however, Clemson scratched and clawed their way back in with second chance opportunities and hustle plays chasing down loose balls. Despite being out rebounded 52 to 43, the Tigers got 8 offensive rebounds within the first five minutes of the second half and quickly cut the lead to only one point. From that point forward, neither team would gain an advantage of more than four points until the final buzzer sounded.

According to coach Hewitt, "This felt more like a game later in the season where you have a lot of film on each other. It just came down to a game of effort and we got the win by a very slim two point margin. They could have very easily won but we made a couple more plays at the end. The defensive play to strip Demontez Stitt as he went to the basket on the next to last play was the play of the game."

Clemson had their chances but could not convert as they only shot 37 percent from the floor and were only 10 of 20 from the charity stripe. They missed lay-ups throughout the game including one that would have given them the lead with only 42 seconds left in the game. The Tigers had one final chance after they inbounded the ball past half court, but it was not to be as the time ran out after a mad scramble to gain possession of the ball.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell described the final play by saying, "We wanted to get Demontez on the fly over the top. The pass was just a little bit off and there was a loose ball scramble where if we come up with it there was a guy open under the basket."

Georgia Tech didn't fare much better from the field and shot only 39 percent, including 3 of 17 from beyond the arc. Tech did, however, gain a notable edge on fast break points by scoring 30 points to only 13 by Clemson.

Freshman Glen Rice Jr. played a solid all around game with nine points, four rebounds, four assists, and two blocks by setting the pace early for Tech in transition. He also was involved in the defensive highlight of the game after Stitt elevated for what would have been a monster baseline dunk. Rice had another idea, however, and he met Stitt as the rim for the huge block to send the raucous crowd into a frenzy.

Rice described the play by saying, "I was thinking that I had to get to the spot fast because I was supposed to be over there a little bit sooner and if he would have scored it would have been my fault. I went up there and tried to block it. I didn't know what was going to happen and I was hoping that he wouldn't finish that."

The victory puts the Jackets over .500 in ACC play for the first time this season. It was also their third straight win over a ranked opponent, legitimizing their status as a top contender for the ACC regular season crown. Tech will next travel to Tallahassee to play a revenge game against Florida State, who beat the Jackets in overtime earlier this year.

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