CLEMSON, S.C. -- The game's magnitude, not the accolades that come with being a senior playing before the home crowd for the final time, is what drove Clemson's Greg Buckner to go out in style.
Saving one of his best performances for the biggest of games, Buckner scored 29 points, including 19 in the second half, sparking Clemson to a 76-62 win over Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season finale at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The win means the Tigers likely will head into the ACC Tournament this weekend having already nailed down a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.
"This team has been through a lot of adversity this season and Greg has always been there to get us through the tough times," Tigers coach Rick Barnes said of Buckner, who has played in every game he has coached at Clemson. "He's a special player. He's special in the fact that he's so unselfish. All he cares about is winning."
Buckner's determination was obvious in the early stages of the second half. He hit his first five shots and the Tigers went 9-for-11 from the field during the opening 6:48 of the half to turn a 34-31 halftime lead into a rout.
Buckner's short jumper capped a 20-7 run that quickly put the game out of reach.
"There were no emotions for me today, being my last game here," said Buckner, who moved past Horace Grant into third place on Clemson's all-time scoring list. "It was all about the team winning a game we had to win, and we got the job done. It was a must-win to get into the (NCAA) tournament, but now we've got to continue to win and keep it going."
And when Buckner said "must-win," he wasn't kidding.
Some serious ramifications were riding on the game, despite it being a showdown of two disappointing teams with losing conference records.
To the victorious Tigers (17-12, 7-9 ACC)? Most likely an NCAA Tournament bid regardless of their showing at the ACC Tournament.
"I feel like you get seven (ACC) wins, you finish top six in the league, you go," Barnes said. "I hope that's accurate, I feel that way. But I wish I were on that (NCAA Tournament selection) committee."
And for the not-so-bubbly Yellow Jackets (17-12, 6-10 ACC), the loss probably means an NIT instead of an NCAA bid, unless they do some serious damage in the ACC Tournament.
"The schedule caught up with us in the end," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins of the Jackets' last three games. "When you have three freshmen (starters Dion Glover, Travis Spivey and Alvin Jones) playing teams like Maryland and Duke and Clemson, it's tough."
Although Matt Harpring, second in the ACC in scoring, matched his scoring average with 22 points to lead the Jackets, Clemson did an excellent job keeping the star in check by rotating several defenders on him.
Overall, the Tigers forced 24 Tech turnovers and held Tech to 31 percent shooting in the second half. Clemson shot 50 percent from field for the game, 57 percent in the second half, and turned it over just 10 times.
"We had several guys do a great job on Harpring -- Iker (Iturbe), (Mohamed) Woni, Buckner, even Harold Jamison," Barnes said. "That was important and I thought we were good on defense pretty much all day."
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