Nick Honor banked in a three-pointer with 1.1 seconds to play, as Clemson stunned Georgia Tech for a 74-72 victory Friday at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
The Tigers (13-5, 7-5 ACC) trailed the Yellow Jackets by one point, 72-71, with eight seconds to play following two missed free throws by the usually reliable Jose Alvarado. After Jonathan Baehre grabbed the rebound following the second miss, he got the basketball to Honor, who used a ball screen from Aamir Simms in the middle, went left and then banked home the game-winning three with 1.1 seconds to go.
“I came off and saw Moses Wright was back a little bit, so I felt like it was the right play to put it up,” Honor said. “As soon as it left my hand it was centered on, so I knew it was going to go in somehow. That is what I was thinking.”
When the shot went in, it led to a big celebration on the court for Honor and his teammates.
“Honestly, I don’t think I was the one who was supposed to set the screen. I think JB was,” Simms said after the game. “It was definitely good to give other people shots and I think Nick just did what he does. He was doing what he is doing all the time. So, to see Nick hit that shot, that was big. But honestly, I don’t think I was supposed to be there to set the screen. That was supposed to be JB. I just happened to kind of be there.”
Nonetheless, it all worked out.
Honor finished the game with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while his game-winner was one of his two made threes on two attempts. Simms tied a career-high with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including three 3-pointers from behind the arc.
Simms finished the game 3-for-4 from three-point range. However, the best play for Simms came before Honors’ game-winner. With 11 seconds to play, and the Tigers’ trailing 72-69, the senior passed on an open three-pointer that could have tied the game. Instead, he dumped the basketball down low to Baehre, who dunked the ball home to make it a one-point game.
“Honestly, Coach (Brad Brownell) says a lot, ‘Pass up a good shot for a great shot,’” Simms said. “I know the way that Moses was closing out, he knew I had hit three threes, so he was ready to jump out. There was plenty of time left on the clock, so why not get a better shot and try to keep things rolling.
“JB did his part and finished the play and put it in the net. But I just saw the way Moses was closing out and I knew I was going to get another shot at the rim.”
Baehre’s dunk, set up Alvarado’s missed free throws after he was fouled by Clyde Trapp with eight seconds to play. Before missing his last two free throws, Alvarado was an 88-percent shooter from the foul line.
Clemson had no timeouts remaining.
“I was literally at the free throw line, ‘Hey, he is going to make these two, so we are going to get it out and run our play.’ But when he missed the first one, I knew the pressure got to him and the second one was coming off for sure,” Simms said. “I think everybody in the gym probably thought he was going to make both of them.”
But he did not. Instead, Honor went down the floor and banked in his shot off the glass to give Clemson an improbable victory.
“We just looked back at Coach to see what we were going to run, and he just said, ‘JB take it out and Aamir go to the top.’ So, we just kinda went from there. We thought he was going to make it, so we thought we had time to set it up, but it just kind of happened that way.
“Thank you, Jose for missing those, but sometimes you just have to throw it all together and just hope God answers your prayer.”
Clemson finished the game making six of its last eight shots, a completely different contrast from the first half when it missed its last nine attempts to close out the period.
Despite missing their last nine shots of the first half, the Tigers trailed Tech by just four points at the half, 30-26. Clemson went the last 6:58 without a field goal.
However, the Tigers scored the last five points of the half and held the Yellow Jackets scoreless in the last 2:04. Tech missed its last six shots to close out the first 20 minutes.
Before its slump Tech was shooting 59 percent from the field and was up by nine points twice, 28-19 and 30-21. But Clemson got itself back in the game at the foul line, where it made 8 of 9 attempts.
“I thought that was a real key was the last four minutes of the half,” Brownell said. “We cut it to four, got a little bit of the momentum. It was a little bit of an ugly first half. We did not play very well offensively, and they had some matchups we had not anticipated, so it took us a little while as coaches to make an adjustment or two.”
Neither team shot the ball well from behind the arc in the first half. Clemson was just 2-for-9 from three-point range to open the game, while Tech was 1-for-8.
The Tigers made 7-of-9 three pointers in the second half, while the Yellow Jackets, who shot 52 percent overall, finished the night 5-for-19 with the long shot. Clemson shot 46 percent overall.
The second half saw seven lead changes between the two teams and 10 ties.
Tech (9-8, 5-6 ACC) was led by Michael Devoe’s 23 points, while Wright added 15 points and had four rebounds. Bubba Parham scored 12 points for the Yellow Jackets, as did Jordan Usher.
Clemson will hit the road for the first of three straight road games on Wednesday. The Tigers will play at Notre Dame next Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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