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Clemson knocks off Georgia Tech

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

ATLANTA -- It's too early to tell if Clemson will earn a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid, so Demontez Stitt is focusing on the present.

And that means to play suffocating defense.

"When you're playing 'D,' it's hard for the other team to get in a rhythm," Stitt said. "We try to keep everybody energized."

Jerai Grant scored 20 points, Stitt added 16 and Clemson used a 22-0 in the first half to beat reeling Georgia Tech 65-56 on Saturday.

Clemson (16-7, 5-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) has won three of four since dropping consecutive games at North Carolina and Maryland.

Deerfield-Windsor grad and Albany native Andre Young scored 14 points in the win.

Iman Shumpert scored 17 points for the Yellow Jackets (10-12, 3-6), who have lost three straight and four of five.

Over the last four seasons, Georgia Tech is a combined 19-38 in ACC play.

The Tigers won their first ACC road game this season in five tries. Andre Young, who finished with 14 points, was 4 for 6 on 3-point attempts and Stitt 2 for 2.

"We needed to prove we're tough enough to do this," first-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "We have two seniors (Grant and Stitt) that should enable us to compete on the road and we have, but it's good to put it behind us even though we have a lot more work to do."

Coming off a potentially derailing two-point loss at Virginia earlier in the week, Clemson avoided a similar pitfall of dominating the second half before lapsing defensively in the final minute.

The outcome against Georgia Tech was all but decided late in the game, but Grant liked how the Tigers continued to contest shots, disrupt passing lanes and fill the lane with purple jerseys after Glen Rice Jr.'s three-point play forced a 40-40 tie with 13:03 remaining.

That's the kind of performance Grant wanted from a defense that has the ACC's lowest scoring average.

"It was huge," Grant said. "I think we shook off the Virginia loss."

Georgia Tech's biggest lead was 12, coming on Mfon Udofia's 3-pointer at the 10:02 mark of the first half.

But after Daniel Miller's layup made it 19-8 less than a minute later, Clemson went on a 22-0 run that ended when Udofia stole the ball from Stitt and drove for a layup that cut the Tigers' lead to 30-21.

The Yellow Jackets never led after Stitt's layup at the 5:18 mark of the first half. Shumpert and Rice combined to go 8 for 28 from the field, 0 for 8 on 3s.

"For the second game in a row, we did have an unbelievable effort," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "We forced Clemson to make 20 turnovers and they don't turn the ball over much. They are known for their half-court offense and defense."

Georgia Tech has dropped three straight to Clemson and nine of 12 in the series. The Tigers enjoyed a 25-point blowout last month at home, hitting 17 of 20 shots from the field in the second half.

Brownell was pleased with Stitt's approach in "letting the game come to him" and stop trying to be overly aggressive on both ends of the floor.

The coach liked how Grant's patience helped him shoot fluid jumpers from the high post and to cut inside the lane to receive the ball and help the Tigers beat Georgia Tech's leaky full-court press.

"Certainly our defense was much better the last 25, 30 minutes, and that kept us in the game and allowed us to have our run," Brownell said. "Then we did a better job of executing under duress late in the game."

Before Saturday, Clemson had held opponents to 50 or less in three straight games, the first time since its 1986-87 NCAA tournament team did same against four non-conference opponents.

Though the streak ended, Stitt liked how the game unfolded.

"After we got going, it was hard to stop us," Stitt said. "They have a lot of guys who can score. We did a good job of controlling the ball. We maintained the lead."