By Will Vandervort.
Blossomgame makes two free throws to seal win
By Will Vandervort
Clemson’s Jordan Roper never had any doubt that Jaron Blossomgame was going to make both free throws with two seconds left against Georgia Tech Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“See that is my roommate so I knew that it was going in,” Roper said laughing.
He was right. Blossomgame, a 47.6 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, drained both attempts at the foul line, sealing the Tigers’ 45-41 victory in front of 7,248 fans. It was the fewest points scored in an Atlantic Coast Conference win since beating Virginia 45-44 in the 1970-’71 season.
“I was going to make them,” Blossomgame said afterwards. “I always practice with our (graduate assistant) in situations like that so I had all the confidence in the world.”
Free throw shooting has improved greatly for the Tigers this season as they came into the game ranked third in the conference at 74.1 percent. But ironically, Clemson was only 11 of 17 from the charity stripe when Blossomgame—the second worse free throw shooter on the squad—stepped to the foul line.
“Coach puts a little pressure on the players if we miss a free throw in workouts,” Blossomgame said. “We have to run up and down the floor or do suicides or something. We are used to those pressure situations so I had all the confidence I needed to go and knock those free throws down.”
Blossomgame finished the night 4 for 4 from the free throw line – a season-high in makes and attempts for the freshman.
“He hit some big ones. He did,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said. “He rebounded the ball great. He had nine rebounds tonight – four points, but four free throws in the second half and obviously the two to win the game. Those were big.
“He has not shot free throws great this year. But he stepped up with a lot of confidence and knocked them down. You are always proud of your guys and excited for them when they do something like that in a big moment.”
There was not much confidence among those watching inside Littlejohn Coliseum that Clemson was going to win when the Yellow Jackets took a 37-32 lead on two Marcus Georges-Hunt free throws with 6:40 to play. At the time, the Tigers were shooting 23.1 percent from the field and were 6 of 10 from the foul line.
“That was like a five-touchdown lead in football,” Brownell said.
But Clemson used its defense, like it has all season, to bounce back. The Tigers (15-6, 6-3 ACC) held Tech to one field goal—a Daniel Miller jumper from the right side—in the final 7:03. They used a 9-0 run to take a 41-37 lead, which Blossomgame capped with the first two of his four free throws with 3:18 to play.
The biggest play of the night came when K.J. McDaniels stole the ball from Kammeon Holsey, led it to point guard Rod Hall, who then set up an alley-oop dunk to McDaniels for what at the time gave the Tigers a 39-37 lead with 4:38 to play.
“The crowd got real loud after that dunk. It was the loudest I heard them all night,” said Roper, who scored 12 points to lead the Tigers.
Georgia Tech (12-11, 3-7 ACC) had a chance to tie or win the game when it grabbed a missed shot by Hall—who had earlier made a spinning-jumper in the lane—with 16.6 seconds left. Tech set up its final play for Georges-Hunt to penetrate and then take the shot or kick it back outside to an open player.
Clemson guarded the perimeter well so Georges-Hunt only had a contested layup which McDaniels blocked. Holsey grabbed the rebound but his follow shot was off the mark and Blossomgame secured the rebound and the victory.
The Tigers are now 8-0 in games this season when the opposition scores less than 50 points.
“You are just trying to keep positive momentum going and you win differently,” Brownell said. “Some games you play well and sometimes it is offensive things and sometimes it is defensive things. Sometimes you get in games like this and it feels like a football game.
“You just grind.”