Mays, Hammonds, Purnell Postgame Comments
Video: Mays Game Winning Layup
Box: Clemson 75 Georgia Tech 74
Photos: Tigers Beat Tech
James Mays’ left-handed layup with 2.2 seconds remaining propelled the Tigers to a dramatic 75-74 victory over Georgia Tech Saturday, in a filled Littlejohn Coliseum.
Mays’ game-winning shot comes just three days after guard Cliff Hammonds made a game-winning layup with 2.8 seconds left at Florida State.
“It definitely shows that experience goes a long ways in the conference,” Hammonds said. “We didn’t want to lose the game. We willed ourselves to the win.”
The first two games are a far cry from what the Tigers (16-0, 2-0 ACC) were able to do down the stretch last year. It seemed time and time again, they lost every contest that was determined in the final seconds.
“I don’t think there’s any question that when players go through tough games, if it doesn’t break them, they’re going to be better for it,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.
What makes the heroics by Mays, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, even more remarkable was the way in which he scored.
The Yellow Jackets (11-4, 0-2 ACC) held a 74-73 with 6.5 seconds left, which oddly enough is the exact same amount of time Clemson had on its final play against the Seminoles.
The Tigers had to go 94 feet for the hoop and freshman forward Trevor Booker was the player assigned to throw it into play.
He hit Mays, who stood near mid-court and turned toward his team’s basket. He looked to throw it to either Hammonds, who had 17 points and five rebounds, or guard K.C. Rivers, who had a team-high 20 points, but both were guarded, which caused Mays to take off for the basket.
In a full sprint, he headed straight toward the hoop, knifing his way through defenders, before laying it up and in with his non-shooting hand.
“It wasn’t drawn up for me,” Mays said. “But I saw an opening and I just took it to the basket.”
The easy time of it for Mays was very upsetting for Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt.
“If Vernon Hamilton or Mays went to the basket, we were supposed to put them on the foul line because they’re not good free throw shooters,” Hewitt said. “You certainly want Mays going to the basket. I haven’t seen the tape, but I’m sure there is one guy that could have stopped the layup.”
Each team held an eight-point lead in the first half, with both squads going for stretches where they found the scoring difficult.
Georgia Tech jumped to a quick 14-6 in the first five minutes of the contest, before it could handle the ball with any consistency. The Yellow Jackets turned it over on five straight possessions and went eight minutes without a field goal.
During that span, the Tigers eventually built a 28-20 lead with 5:20 left until halftime.
But that’s when Clemson went ice cold and the Yellow Jackets surged ahead to grab a 34-29 lead at intermission.
It was an ugly 20 minutes of basketball all the way around. The Tigers shot just 28.9 percent from the field, including a scant 3-of-14 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech shot 52 percent from the field, but committed 12 turnovers.
“I don’t think we played all that well in the first half,” Purnell said. “But overall, I thought our team did a great job of not being rattled.”
And it’s that final sentence from Purnell that perfectly sums up these Tigers: they don’t get flustered, regardless of the situation.
“This is the ACC,” said Rivers. “You’re going to have games like this. It’s just that we stayed composed the whole time.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME: James Mays
While making the last shot doesn’t hurt his cause for capturing this honor, it was the other things he did that propelled him to be the recipient of this crowning achievement. Of the six rebounds he grabbed, five came on the offensive end, including one that resulted in a reverse dunk that really got the crowd jumping late in the game. His energy defensively and his free throw shooting was a major difference in the game. He entered the game making just 53.3 percent of his free throws, but against Georgia Tech, he drilled 6-of-8.
TURNING POINT: With 13:12 left to play, Tech’s Zach Peacock is ejected from the game for throwing a deliberate elbow to the face of Clemson’s Trevor Booker. This gave the Tigers some fire.
“When he got thrown out, it energized us,” Purnell said.
Clemson trailed 48-43 when it happened and within three minutes, it had the lead at 54-53.
“It just shows that we’ve got heart and that we don’t back down,” guard K.C. Rivers said. “We’re not scared of anybody.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I feel like we’re No. 1 (in the nation),” Mays said. “This is a special team and this is a special season.”