ATLANTA - Playing the ACC Tournament at the Georgia Dome apparently provided some much needed home cooking for Georgia Tech in its first-round game against Clemson.
Former Daily Post Boys Player of the Year Gani Lawal and fellow Georgia native Lewis Clinch were a strong inside-outside combination, helping the Yellow Jackets to an 84-81 upset of No. 17 Clemson on Thursday.
Tech (12-18) still has a large mountain to climb for a chance to play for the championship, beginning with a second-round game against another ranked team - No. 22 Florida State - today at 2:30 p.m.
However, Thursday's win was reminiscent of another local team that caught lightning in a bottle - almost literally - in the same building just a year ago.
"I said before the game I hope we don't see any tornadoes," joked Tech coach Paul Hewitt, referring to the improbable run archrival Georgia made in winning the SEC Tournament after a tornado hit the Georgia Dome almost a year ago to the date.
"They know they have an opportunity, but they also know it's only one game down."
It was a pair of locals that did F-5 level damage to Clemson (23-8).
Norcross' Lawal finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Clinch shot a sizzling 11 of 20 from the floor on his way to a game high 32 points.
It was Clinch who helped Tech take advantage of early sluggishness by Clemson to grab the early lead.
The 6-foot-3 senior from Cordele struck for nine points in the first six minutes of the game as the Jackets built advantages of 10-2 and 16-9.
However, another Georgia native and Gwinnett graduate - former Wesleyan standout Tanner Smith - helped pull the Tigers back into the game.
The 6-5 freshman only played eight minutes in the first half, but made the most of that time, scoring five of his 10 points - just one off his season high - in a span of less than a minute.
He scored all of his points in the first half, and more importantly, created energy which spurred a 12-3 run that vaulted Clemson into a 21-19 lead with 8:34 left in the first half.
"I think all year, we've kind of had trouble just sustaining energy," Smith said. "Hopefully, we'll learn our lesson with that, especially in games like this, where it's win or go home."
Tech managed to stay close behind Lawal and the inside game.
After getting off to a rough 1-for-6 start from the floor, the 6-9 sophomore scored seven points and ripped down six boards, including a stickback with 1:41 left in the half to pull the Jackets even at 39 heading into intermission.
"I came out just rushing through my progression (early on)," Lawal said. "I really wasn't being aggressive and strong like I know I can. After I had that shaky start, I really just wanted to come out and play hard and really assert myself and make myself a presence."
Both Lawal and Clinch asserted themselves in the second half. Clinch drained a 3-pointer 40 seconds into the frame to give Tech a lead it never relinquished.
Meanwhile, Lawal came up with some big baskets off offensive rebounds - he had seven offensive boards in the game - to help the Jackets build their biggest lead at 75-62 following Clinch's fifth and final 3-pointer of the day with 4:02 to play.
But Clemson refused to fold and began to hit a few 3-balls of its own. K.C. Rivers nailed a pair of 3-pointers, while Terrence Oglesby and Andre Young each added another as the Tigers went on a 19-9 run that cut Tech's lead to just 84-81 with seven seconds left.
However, Clinch lived up to his name by draining two free throws to seal Tech's win and second-round date with Florida State.
Joining Clinch and Lawal in double figures were Alade Aminu with 12 points and Iman Shumpert with 11, plus five assists and five rebounds. The Jackets also got a game-high eight assists from Mo Miller.
Rivers and Oglesby were two of four Clemson players with 11 points, along with DeMontez Stitts and Raymond Sikes. Trevor Booker led the Tigers with 17 points and nine rebounds.