Clemson needed a win like this.
After an excruciating loss to N.C. State last weekend, the Tigers pulled out a close one against Georgia Tech. K.J. McDaniels scored 14 points and Milton Jennings blocked a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to preserve a 56-53 victory Thursday night.
“We needed that win a lot for our psyche,” coach Brad Brownell said.
The Tigers (13-11, 5-7 ACC) extended their domination of the Yellow Jackets (13-10, 3-8), sweeping the season series and winning their seventh in a row overall.
It wasn’t easy.
Georgia Tech rallied from a 12-point deficit in the second half and had a couple of chances to force overtime. Chris Bolden missed badly on a drive with about 10 seconds to go, appearing to get caught between shooting and passing, the ball floating up nowhere close to the rim. But the Yellow Jackets got another chance after Jennings made one of two free throws.
Mfon Udofia took off down the court, looking to get off a 3, and he appeared to have an open look when Daniel Miller delivered a pick to free up his teammate. But Jennings came up from behind to strip it, and the Tigers celebrated.
The play was especially sweet for Jennings.
Last Sunday, the senior forward missed the front end of a 1-and-1 that could’ve clinched it for the Tigers. Instead, he left open the door for the Wolfpack to pull out a 58-57 win on Scott Wood’s 3-pointer with a second remaining.
“I’m really happy for Milton, making a free throw down the stretch and getting the big block,” Brownell said. “He made the big plays to help us win.”
While everyone else will likely remember the block on Udofia, Jennings was proud of making the free throw that forced the Yellow Jackets to go for a shot beyond the arc.
“That free throw was the hardest free throw I ever took in my life,” he said, “just because of the situation that happened the last game.”
Marcus Georges-Hunt led Georgia Tech with 11 points. The Yellow Jackets nearly pulled out an improbable win after shooting 17 percent from the field in the first half.
They were much better in the second half, making 14 of 26 (54 percent). But the defense went south, allowing Clemson to shoot at an even better clip, 62 percent on 13-of-21 from the field. Devin Booker added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Tigers, while Jennings had 12 points.
Robert Carter Jr. had a double-double for the Yellow Jackets, 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Clemson appeared to be firmly in control when Damarcus Harrison made an open 3 with 7:51 left, pushing the Tigers to their biggest lead of the night, 47-35.
Georgia Tech responded with a 12-4 run to make a game of it.
The Tigers hope to take that momentum into Sunday’s home game against No. 3 Miami.
“We really needed this,” Booker said.
Percentages: FG .420, FT .529. 3-Point Goals: 5-12, .417 (Jennings 3-4, Roper 2-3, Hall 0-1, Harrison 0-2, McDaniels 0-2). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 9 (Booker 3, McDaniels 3, Sullivan 2, Jennings). Turnovers: 7 (Booker 2, McDaniels 2, Roper, Filer, Jennings). Steals: 5 (Booker 2, Hall 2, McDaniels).
Percentages: FG .345, FT .706. 3-Point Goals: 3-13, .231 (Bolden 2-4, Reed 1-4, Poole 0-1, Jordan 0-1, Udofia 0-3). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 4 (Miller 2, Bolden, Carter). Turnovers: 10 (Udofia 3, Poole 3, Bolden 2, Miller, Carter). Steals: 3 (Miller 2, Carter). Att.– 6,862. Officials– Ray Natili, Bernard Clinton, Joe Lindsay.