ATLANTA — Clemson players K.J. McDaniels and DaMarcus Harrison said that the Tigers made a slight change in the second half Saturday at Georgia Tech, yet the result was huge as they turned a nine-point deficit into a 63-55 win.
Simply put, Clemson (17-9, 8-6 ACC) played with more defensive energy after halftime, and it helped that McDaniel scored 10 of his 16 points and Harrison added 10 of his 15.
The Tigers pressured Georgia Tech ballhandlers more aggressively and took advantage of the sloppy Yellow Jackets as Tech (13-14, 4-10) committed nine of its 15 turnovers and Clemson scored 14 points off those mistakes.
Clemson was lead-footed as Tech took a 29-23 halftime lead.
"We came to the lockerroom and had to sort some stuff out," McDaniels said after the Tigers outscored the Jackets 40-26 in the second half. "We came out with a great defensive effort in the second half. I felt that was what changed the game for us."
As the Tigers came together, the Yellow Jackets fell apart.
Senior guard Trae Golden scored a game-high 17 points in his return to the starting lineup after three weeks of being slowed by a groin injury, but he had five turnovers.
Tech expanded the lead to 34-25 on a 3-pointer by sophomore Marcus Georges-Hunt (13 points) with 18:49 left in the game.
Then, the wheels fell off for the home team.
Tech committed seven turnovers and Clemson zero from that point to when the Tigers took their first second-half lead with 10:02 left. That came as reserve forward Josh Smith rebounded a free throw missed by center Landry Nnoko (13 points), and scored to move the Tigers up 42-40.
That Clemson possession began with a turnover by Tech center Daniel Miller, and was the third straight time the Yellow Jackets coughed the ball up following consecutive miscues by Golden.
The Jackets' frustration, even at home in McCamish Pavilion, was notable.
"We were arguing," said Georges-Hunt. "We didn't keep our composure. People were getting mad at each other."
Georgia Tech regained the lead once, when one of Golden's four 3-pointers pushed the Jackets ahead 46-44 with 7:24 to go.
Harrison followed with back-to-back treys. The second gave Clemson the lead for good, 51-48, with 4:45 remaining. A turnover by Golden ensued, McDaniels soon added two free throws, and the Tigers were on their way to their fourth ACC road win.
"I thought we didn't quite have the energy that we needed early," said Clemson coach Brad Brownell, whose team was picked by ACC media to finish 14th in league play. "We didn't make any major adjustments; we just guarded harder."
Miller pitched in 14 points and eight rebounds before fouling out.
The Jackets took a 29-23 lead to halftime with Golden's return to form.
He was averaging a team-high 14.6 points per game when he suffered a groin injury in a Feb. 1 game at Wake Forest. In his last three games, the Tennessee transfer scored a total of five points and missed two games entirely.
The native of suburban Atlanta made two 3-pointers in the first half Saturday to surpass that total with six points, and Miller was dominant inside with 10 of his points and five rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets led for the final 11:19 of the half after a 3-pointer by Georges-Hunt.
But Georgia Tech entered the game lagging the entire 15-team ACC in turnover margin (-3.46 per game), and that bugaboo caught up to the Yellow Jackets in the second half in the form of a 9-5 deficit. In the first half, Tech committed six turnovers to Clemson's eight.
"We guarded the ball harder and made them push out further on the court," Harrison said. "They got sloppy with a couple of passes, and we got hands on some passes."
The Jackets helped with several lackluster plays.
"When you have that many (turnovers) in that amount of time, there's probably a lot of different reasons . . . I think it was a multitude of sins that created those," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said after the Tigers swept the two-game season series.
"If it was just one thing, it would be a lot easier to figure out."