After the twelfth-seeded men’s basketball team upset the fifth-seeded Clemson Tigers on the first day of the ACC Tournament, winning 86-81 on March 12, Tech came up just short against Florida State on the second day of the Tournament, falling 64-62. With the win and the loss at the Georgia Dome, the Jackets ended the season 12-19 and failed to qualify for either the NIT or the NCAA Tournament.
“The guys played extremely hard all year and put themselves in a position to win, but unfortunately for us this year more people made plays at the end than we would have liked to have happen,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.
In the first game against Clemson, the Jackets were able to avenge a pair of losses by a combined 24 points against the Tigers during the regular season. In this game, senior guard Lewis Clinch continued his late-season hot streak and led the Jackets with 32 points for the game. This scoring total was a new career high for the season for Clinch, who set his previous career high of 30 points against Miami just eight days before.
“He’s been a big-time player for us for a long time. He’s had some issues with injuries and missing some games. If he’s on the court consistently, this is what you see from him. This is probably the first time in his career where there’s not an injury or something that’s kept him off the court,” Hewitt said.
Sophomore forward Gani Lawal posted a double-double for the game, scoring 20 points and posting a team-high 14 rebounds. It was Lawal’s fifteenth double-double of the season. Freshman guard Iman Shumpert also reached double-digit points with 11.
After the Tigers got the initial basket, the Jackets went on a 10-0 scoring run to take an eight-point lead. From there it was a back-and-forth battle between the teams, with seven ties and eight lead changes occurring throughout the half. The game went into halftime all tied up at 39.
Tech opened the second half with an 8-0 run and maintained a comfortable lead for most of the second half, but Clemson nearly came back in the last four minutes.
While the Jackets were up by 13 with 4:02 left to play, the Tigers managed to trim the lead down to just four with 0:49 left on the clock. After a brief scoring drought, Shumpert hit two free throws to make it a six-point game with 12 seconds left, but Clemson’s Andre Young sprinted down the court to hit a three, making it a one-possession game with just seven seconds on the clock. Tech inbounded the ball successfully, and Clinch hit two free throws to seal the game.
“We handled their pressure all year really well. Their pressure didn’t beat us when we played up at their place and at our place. We didn’t turn the ball over there. In the first game, [Terrence] Oglesby made five threes – that was the difference in the game,” Hewitt said.
Unlike the Jackets’ first game of the ACC Tournament, Tech failed to pull out the victory at the end of a close game against Florida State. With the loss to Seminoles, Tech fell to 6-9 overall in the ACC Tournament during Hewitt’s tenure.
“I give the seniors a lot of credit. This is a tough way to spend your senior year, but they continued to come out and play hard and provide good leadership for our guys. It is one of those seasons that is tough to explain, but at the same time you do recognize that these guys have a lot of character to continue to battle and play hard. They just gave a great effort every day,” Hewitt said.
Clinch led the Jackets with 25 points on 9-for-23 shooting from the field, including a 7-for-18 performance from behind the arc. Lawal and sophomore point guard Moe Miller each picked up 11 points in the game; Lawal led the team in rebounds with seven, and Miller also had five assists in the season finale.
In contrast to the Clemson game, Tech picked up the first basket and Florida State followed with an 8-0 run to take a six-point lead. With Florida State up by nine with 11:36 to play in the first half, the Jackets began to mount a comeback with Lawal leading the way. The Jackets scored nine straight points, eight of which came from Lawal, to tie the game at 15 with 8:00 to play. The Jackets fell behind before the end of the half as Florida State built a double-digit lead with just over a minute left, but Tech recovered and went into halftime trailing the Seminoles by six.
While the Jackets shot below 35 percent from the field in the first half, Florida State shot well over the 50 percent mark. Goals from behind the arc were comparable for both teams as Tech shot three-for-nine from three point range, while the Seminoles managed two-for-eight.
Florida State maintained control of the game for the majority of the second half, but going into the last two minutes, the Seminoles had only a three point lead. Junior forward Zach Peacock made two free throws with 1:34 left to play to cut the lead down to one. Peacock then capitalized off of a FSU turnover to make a layup, giving the Jackets a 62-61 lead—their first lead since the early minutes of the game—with 0:29 to play. But Florida State was not done; with seven seconds left, sophomore FSU guard Derwin Kitchen made a layup and picked up the foul. Kitchen made his free throw to give the Seminoles a two point of 64-62, and that would become the final score after Shumpert was unable to make a last-second shot from the foul line.
“We just wanted to run a back screen on the ball. In both of these games, Iman Shumpert had a lot of success getting into the high paint area and either getting fouled or making the shot. When he took it, I thought for a second that Zachery [Peacock] was open behind him for a kick out, but he wasn’t. [Jordan] DeMercy honored him and stayed with him. He got a good look, but that’s something where in both games Iman had a lot of success getting to the high lane,” Hewitt said.
“I was willing to do whatever it takes for my team to get to the next game. [Florida State] did a great job defending me this game, but I give a lot of credit to my team as well for getting me open and getting me some great looks. Our guys played hard. I wish all of the younger guys the best of luck next year; I think they have a bright future for this program and staff,” Clinch said.