No. 18 Clemson struggled offensively in its first game without Donte Grantham, managing only 36 points Tuesday night at No. 2 Virginia.
The Tigers will need to find more offense Sunday against Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4 ACC) if they are going to stay in contention in the conference. Clemson (16-4) entered Saturday’s action tied for fourth in the league at 5-3, a half-game back of third-place Louisville.
Clemson needs its veteran backcourt to step up with Grantham, the Tigers’ most versatile and perhaps best player, lost for the season with a torn ACL.
That did not happen against the Cavaliers as Clemson’s three starting guards combined for 10 turnovers and two assists in the worst loss of the season. As a team, Clemson finished with 19 turnovers and 10 assists, a ratio that was disappointing to Tigers coach Brad Brownell.
“We’ve had too many,” Brownell said of turnover issues. “We beat Notre Dame with nine and had an unbelievably efficient game. Then we go to Virginia and have 19. There’s really no way to overcome that. In a lower possession game you can’t have 10 more turnovers, so that’s something we’ve got to keep working on.”
Gabe DeVoe had five turnovers against Virginia, while point guard Shelton Mitchell had three. Marcquise Reed had a pair of turnovers but also had four steals.
Brownell believes at times his guards are trying to do too much and forcing the action instead of letting the game come to them. Playing without Grantham, who Brownell has praised for his court vision, certainly didn’t help Clemson’s turnover issues.
“Some of that was frustration where you’re trying to make a play that’s not there because nothing good’s happened for you and you feel like you need to do something, and some of it’s very good Virginia defense, their size and hand activity, length,” Brownell said.
Clemson had four days off between games at Virginia and at Georgia Tech and Brownell is hopeful his squad made progress as far as adjusting to playing without Grantham.
The Tigers will face a Georgia Tech team that has lost three consecutive games but that also has home wins over Miami and Notre Dame so far this season.
“Obviously the first game back was quick,” Brownell said. “I think there’s a little bit of an adjustment period. You better not take too long, and I’m optimistic that now that we’ve gotten past a game we realize this is who we are and let’s go play.”
Aamir Simms, who replaced Grantham in the starting lineup, was Clemson’s second-leading scorer with nine points against Virginia and led the Tigers in rebounds with six in 25 minutes of action.
If Simms can continue to play the way he did against the Cavaliers, Brownell is confident the Tigers will be fine moving forward.
“This is what we anticipated him doing. We thought he would have an impact as a freshman. Now he’s obviously got to have a big one,” Brownell said. “Aamir had a good, solid first game. If we can get consistency from him just like that, he doesn’t need to do anything more than what he just did, then we’ll be fine.”
Who: No. 18 Clemson (16-4, 5-3 ACC) at Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4)
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta
KenPom prediction: Clemson 65, Georgia Tech 59
Radio: 93.1 FM