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Smith, DeMercy return to home state for ACC tournament

ATLANTA - Former Wesleyan standout Tanner Smith will play his first ACC tournament game against the team he often rooted for growing up.

The schedule wasn't supposed to work this way.

Clemson was expected to get a first-round bye. Instead, the Tigers will play Georgia Tech at 2:30 p.m. today in the Georgia Dome.

Clemson (23-7, 9-7) fell to the fifth seed with three losses in its last four regular-season games. Now, the Tigers would need four victories to win the ACC title, not just three.

"We obviously didn't finish the way we wanted," Smith said Wednesday after a practice session at the Dome. "We've to get our winning formula back like we had earlier."

Slipping ahead of the Tigers in the ACC standings was Florida State, which earned a bye to the quarterfinals after beating Clemson for the second time. The Seminoles (23-8, 10-6) will play at 2:30 p.m. Friday against the Clemson-Georgia Tech winner.

Although the Gwinnett County spotlight for the ACC tournament is on former Norcross superstars Gani Lawal and Al-Farouq Aminu, the event is also a chance for Smith and FSU's Jordan DeMercy to play before family and friends.

DeMercy, another former Norcross player, has a similar role with the Seminoles as Smith does with Clemson. Both are key contributors who do a lot of little things other than score.

DeMercy, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, averages 20 minutes per game and has made 16 starts. He averages 3.4 points and 2.8 rebounds, but is just as valuable for his defense and passing. He has 68 assists and 24 steals.

Smith, a 6-foot-5 freshman, gets 14 minutes per game for Clemson and has become a defensive stopper for the Tigers. He averages 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, and has 33 assists and 28 steals.

Best of all, both Clemson and FSU appeared to be locks for the NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens in the ACC Tournament. The Tigers are ranked No. 17 and the Seminoles are No. 22.

The key for Clemson going forward is to cut down on turnovers. Coach Oliver Purnell is confident that it will happen.

"We've still had a heck of a year," Purnell said. "A lot of teams would like to be in our position (for the NCAA tournament)."

Smith was just glad to get a practice at the Dome before facing Georgia Tech.

"It's almost like shooting outside," he said. "There is a lot of room behind the baskets. It takes a while to adjust your depth perception."