No. 15 Clemson rambles into Georgia Tech a wreck
The loss of senior captain Donte Gratham to a season-ending nee injury was a serious blow to No. 15 Clemson and coach Brad Brownell. Now the questionable status of starting point guard Shelton Mitchell has put the team in crisis mode.
"There's no doubt we're not the same team we were when we had Donte and Shelton," Brownell said.
Clemson lost its third consecutive game for the first time this season when it fell at Virginia Tech 65-58 on Wednesday night after Mitchell was not cleared to play because of a concussion.
Mitchell suffered the concussion in the final seconds of an 81-79 loss at Florida State on Feb. 14 and was kept overnight in a Tallahassee, Fla., hospital for observation. He has been in concussion protocol since then.
His status for Saturday's home game against Georgia Tech (11-17, 4-11 ACC) is undetermined.
"We're hopeful that he'll be fine, but he needs to be able to do some more things," Brownell said. "We'll just have to push forward without him."
Only two weeks ago, the Tigers (20-7, 9-6) were in sole possession of second place in the conference standings. They are now in a three-way tie for fourth with N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
Clemson is likely assured of continuing its streak of NCAA Tournament appearances that started in 2011 with its 20-win season and winning record in the ACC. But Brownell is concerned about the psyche of his team this close to March Madness having to deal with more defeats than usual because of injury problems.
"It's hard, I'm not going to lie to you -- it's hard on all of us," Brownell said. "We've had to do some things differently and that hasn't been good enough to beat some of the best teams in our league."
Junior guard Marcquise Reed is a ray of hope. Against Virginia Tech, he scored a career-high 28 points and made 8 of 20 3-point attempts, tying the school record for a game. Center Elijah Thomas achieved his eighth double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Clemson's bench did not score, however, missing all nine of its shots and only compiling one rebound in 41 combined minutes.
"We played some guys and they couldn't make shots and that puts a lot of pressure on your older guys," Brownell said. "We needed more bench plays."
Clemson's problems pale in comparison with those of Georgia Tech, which has lost 10 of its last 11 games.
Coach Josh Pastner, in his second year with the Yellow Jackets, predicted a troublesome season because of youth after losing three senior starters. Injuries have also taken a toll.
"I think if you ask anyone in a major rebuild job, they would tell you you're going to have a tough year along the way," Pastner said.
Freshman guards Jose Alvarado and Curtis Haywood suffered season-ending injuries after looking productive earlier in the season. Preseason All-ACC guard Josh Okogie missed the first eight games of the season with an NCAA suspension and finger dislocation.
Center Ben Lammers, the reigning ACC defensive player of the year, sprained an ankle in the second game of the season and has not fully recovered.
Assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie resigned after being the subject of an NCAA investigation. Pastner has been accused of allegations of NCAA violations, and sexual assault, all of which he has denied. The charges led to him filing a lawsuit, claiming extortion and blackmail, and then being countersued.
"We got hit with some injuries this year and some unlucky breaks and some things, but you are due to have a tough season," Pastner said. "We've had a tough season this year. We can't have another one like this next year or the year after. I get that. And that's not our plan."