GREENSBORO, N.C. - In keeping with the 50th anniversary theme of the ACC, Clemson lost its 50th ACC Tournament game Thursday night.
Using a 20-1 run to open the second half, Florida State streaked to a 72-61 victory over Clemson in the first round at Greensboro Coliseum.
It was a bitter defeat for the Tigers (15-13), who have to hope their early-season success is enough to warrant an NIT bid. Florida State (14-14) kept its NIT hopes alive, but the Seminoles have to turn around and beat top-seeded Wake Forest at noon today to qualify.
"We do expect an NIT bid," said Clemson coach Larry Shyatt, whose ACC Tournament record is 1-5 with three straight appearances in the play-in game between the two lowest seeds. "Our guys are excited about playing and have been talking about it for some time. I'd be excited about playing anybody."
Clemson had little to be excited about Thursday. Look no further than the starting guard play to see what made the difference in this game. Florida State's combination of Tim Pickett and Nate Johnson accounted for 40 points on 15-of-24 shooting (62.5 percent).
Clemson's guard combo of All-ACC first-team selection Edward Scott and Chey Christie combined to shoot 5-for-28 from the floor (17.8 percent) and 19 points.
Johnson, a junior college transfer who made three of 25 field goals in his last five games, scored a season-high 18 and hit four of five 3-pointers.
"Nate just shoots the lights out every day in our shooting drills, so we know what he's capable of," said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.
Scott, who was averaging 21.6 points in eight games, was furious after the game about the physical play on him that went unchecked by the officials. It seemed a particularly touchy point considering it was an officiating gaffe in the first meeting between these two teams that cost the Tigers a victory and ultimately relegated them to the No. 8 seed instead of a No. 6.
"I think they got away with everything - a lot of hacking, and we got no calls," said Scott, who was 3-for-18 from the floor and 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. "Everybody gets to do it but us."
Scott said it got so bad during Florida State's decisive run that the Seminoles players were joking with him about it. Scott was not amused.
"Even their players came up to me and said, 'We can get away with anything,"' Scott said. "It was a joke."
A 19-4 Clemson run late in the first half put the Tigers ahead 36-28 at intermission. But Clemson missed its first nine shots in the second half and didn't make a field goal until 11:15 remaining.
"We've been on many bad runs and survived," said Shyatt, "but not that second half. I think they beat us in every phase of the game in the second half."
After five straight seasons never being seeded higher than seventh in the ACC, Shyatt's future as the Tigers coach is tenuous.
"My feeling good is not the question," Shyatt said about his job security. "That is a question ultimately not controlled by me."
Scott, a senior, feels equally helpless about the NIT.
"That's something else that's not in my control," Scott said. "I can't control the officiating, and I can't control the bids we get."
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or email@example.com.