ATLANTA — Georgia Tech hopes to pull off an impressive run through the ACC tournament.
One down, three to go.
Lewis Clinch set a career high with 32 points, and the last-place Yellow Jackets pulled off the first upset of the tournament, beating No. 17 Clemson 86-81 in the opening round Thursday.
"They've played like that the whole year," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "They've played very hard and done some good things. The difference in the end, we made our free throws … ."
Clinch made five 3-pointers to carry the Yellow Jackets (12-18), who went 2-14 in the ACC during the regular season — including a pair of losses to the Tigers. He capped his performance with a pair of clinching free throws, eclipsing his career high of 30 points against Miami just eight days earlier.
"I was open," Clinch said. "If I have open looks, I'm supposed to knock them down."
After equaling the most ACC losses in school history during the regular season, Georgia Tech has a chance to match its win total in just two days. The Yellow Jackets face No. 22 Florida State in the quarterfinals today.
For the third time in four years, the 12th-seeded team in the tournament opened with an upset of the No. 5 seed. And Clemson failed again to win the most prestigious of league tournaments on its 56th try — the only original member of the ACC lacking a championship.
Gani Lawal added 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Yellow Jackets.
"They had nothing to lose, and they played like it," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said of Georgia Tech. "This is their season, and I don't think we had the same edge that they had."
The Tigers (23-8) will limp into the NCAA Tournament having lost four of five.
Miami struggles, falls 65-47 against Va. Tech
With a little more than four minutes left against Virginia Tech, Miami star Jack McClinton sat hunched over on the bench, his head buried in his hands.
His day was done early.
So too, likely, were his NCAA Tournament hopes.
"I played a bad game," he said. "You don't play great all the time, and it's unfortunate in this big a game I didn't play well."
But the Hokies were loose and shut down the Hurricanes for an easy 65-47 win.
The eighth-seeded Hokies (18-13), who face top-seeded and No. 1-ranked North Carolina today, had not held any team to fewer than 48 all season.
"I felt better. I just played," Tech senior forward A.D. Vassallo said.
That was precisely what coach Seth Greenberg wanted to see from his players, who had every reason to be tight. They had lost six of seven to fall to bubble status. Again.
"The big thing for us was to finish," he said. "I told them, 'Don't be afraid. Just go out and play. Trust yourselves. Play to win. Stay in the moment. Enjoy the moment.' "
They did, and there was plenty to enjoy.
And the ninth-seeded 'Canes (18-12) had no answer.
"I thought today was by far our worst performance from an offensive standpoint," said coach Frank Haith, whose team's previous low was 62 points. "We just couldn't make any shots. We have to give them credit, they played very good defense."
McClinton, a first-team All-ACC pick who was averaging 19.7 points, matched his season low with just nine points on 4 of 11 shooting.
Maryland 74, N.C. State 69: Junior guard Eric Hayes came off the bench to score a career-high 21, including three straight 3-pointers in the opening half to spark a comeback, as the seventh-seeded Terrapins moved a step closer to an NCAA Tournament berth. The Terps (19-12) fell behind by 13 midway through the first half, but Hayes helped forge a 29-29 tie at the half. Greivis Vasquez (17 points, 10 assists) and Hayes put the Wolfpack (16-14) away late.
BC 76, Virginia 63: Sophomore guard Rakim Sanders scored a career-high 25 as the sixth-seeded Eagles took control midway through the opening half and held on. Tyrese Rice had just one field goal and nine points, but he and the Eagles (22-10) shot 31-of-36 from the free-throw line to end the disappointing season of the 11th-seeded Cavaliers (10-18).
Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.