ATLANTA — There was something strangely familiar about the scenario that played out Tuesday night at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Maybe that’s because it had just happened.
Four days after putting together a dominant first-half showing at North Carolina, Georgia Tech on Tuesday sprinted to another fast start, outpacing another conference foe.
But much like Saturday’s two-point win over the Tar Heels, the Yellow Jackets watched an opening-half lead disappear in the final 20 minutes, this time on their home floor against Clemson.
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And once again, that didn’t matter.
With a pair of clutch foul shots and a key, last-second defensive stop, No, 19 Georgia Tech held on to beat No. 17 Clemson 66-64.
The win propelled the Yellow Jackets to back-to-back victories over a pair of top 25-ranked teams for the first time since 2004, when they beat Kansas and Oklahoma State in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight and Final Four.
“It’s definitely a big accomplishment for this team, and this is not the end for us,” senior forward Zachery Peacock said. “It’s like, we’re happy that we did it, but we’re also celebrating this day of being happy and moving on.”
The win also sent the Yellow Jackets (14-4, 3-2) above the .500 mark in ACC play for the first time since January 2006.
Amazingly, along with all the aforementioned parallels to Georgia Tech’s previous game, there was another.
For the second straight game, the Yellow Jackets put the ball in Peacock’s hands late as they hoped their sure-handed veteran could help break a tie and make a heady choice as the clock ticked under 5.1 seconds remaining.
“That last play, they had been taking away the point guard and our release man, so we told Zach to flash to the middle if they did that,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said.
Driving into the middle of the paint with the ball after a Georgia Tech timeout, Peacock was fouled as three Tigers players converged upon him. Picking up a crucial fourth foul to send Peacock to the line was Clemson forward Trevor Booker. The senior finished as the Tigers’ leading scorer with 19 points.
Peacock casually took his usual pre-free throw stroll to near midcourt to calm his mind and focus on the hoop.
“I always take that walk to halfcourt to clear my head,” he said. “(He was thinking) ‘This is a walk in the park, another day of practice shooting free throws.’ ”
Sinking both, he gave the Yellow Jackets a two-point lead as the Tigers took over the ball with 3.2 seconds remaining.
Attempting to work the ball into the hands of Demontez Stitt, the Tigers inbounded a long pass downcourt before a pair of Yellow Jackets deflected it away.
Georgia Tech guard Iman Shumpert was the final player to knock the ball away from a Clemson player, prompting freshman Glen Rice Jr. to fall on top of it at midcourt as the buzzer sounded.
“I didn’t think it (the deflection) would be enough for him to lose it, but whatever it takes,” Shumpert said of his tip.
While it may have been the type of pretty finish the Yellow Jackets had in mind, much of the game was filled with a host of unattractive moments.
Nearly four minutes into the second half, in a span of 1:50, three Georgia Tech starters picked up their third fouls, forcing them to the bench unexpectedly.
On top of a game that saw 16 Georgia Tech turnovers, it provided an unsightly backdrop to their fast first-half start and clutch finish.
“Sometimes you’ve got to get the ugly wins,” Shumpert said. “It’s good that we weathered the storm and came up with some big plays in order to win.”
Several of those big plays came off the hand of forward Derrick Favors.
Coming away with three alley-oop finishes in the first half — two on dunks, another on a high-leaping layup — the true freshman finally seemed to play the type of fully physical, dominating game the Yellow Jackets had been longing to see.
“I thought that after the Virginia game, he looked completely comfortable out there,” Hewitt said. “That’s what happens with freshmen. It’s like watching (former Georgia Tech star) Thaddeus Young when he was a freshman. In the second half of his freshman year, he put up some big numbers.”
Against Clemson, Favors had a double-double, scoring 17 to go along with his 14 rebounds.
“I’m finally getting adjusted,” Favors said, acknowledging his focus on his increased strength as a factor. “In the ACC, everybody is strong so you have to put it upon yourself to go in there and lift or if you’re in your room, do push-ups or something. That’s what I’ve started doing.”