GREENSBORO, N.C. — After winning seven straight games over Clemson, Georgia Tech may have been looking ahead to a rematch with No. 11 North Carolina.
The Tigers made them pay, pulling away in the second half to upset the Yellow Jackets 81-69 on Thursday in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Shaniqua Pauldo scored a career-high 23 points to lead five players to score in double figures for 12th-seeded Clemson (14-16), which gets to take on the fourth-seeded Tar Heels (25-5) in the quarterfinals on Friday.
"We felt like we had underachieved the last month of the season," Tigers coach Cristy McKinney said after Clemson snapped a five-game losing streak.
"But we looked at this as a new season.
"I just want my team to play with confidence again," the coach continued. "When they play with confidence, they can do a lot of great things. Hopefully, this game gave them a lot of confidence."
Tasha Taylor added 12 points, and April Parker, Sthefany Thomas and LeLe Hardy each had 10 for the Tigers, whose last win over Georgia Tech came on Jan. 18, 2006.
Alex Montgomery scored 17 points, Jacqua Williams had 15, Iasia Hemingway 13 and Brigitte Ardossi 10 for the fifth-seeded Yellow Jackets (21-9), who had won three straight — including an 89-54 victory over the Tigers on Feb. 22 — entering their tournament opener.
In fact, that loss was Clemson’s worst margin of defeat this season. In that game, the Tigers shot just 32.2 percent from the field and were outrebounded 48-33.
But Clemson turned the tables on the Yellow Jackets in their ACC tournament opener on Thursday. The Tigers held Georgia Tech to 32.8 percent shooting from the field, forced 20 turnovers (14 off steals) and outrebounded them 50-38.
"We haven’t given up 50 rebounds in a long time," said Georgia Tech coach McChelle Joseph. "It was obvious to me that they got all the hustle points — all the loose balls, and all those rebounds."
A big part of that was Pauldo, a 6-foot-3 freshman making her first start of the season. She hit 11 of 17 from the field, pulled down seven rebounds, made two steals and blocked a shot.
"Coach told me in the locker room when we first got here I was going to start," Pauldo said. "I just wanted to show her that she wasn’t just starting me for no reason."
Behind Pauldo, who had 14 first-half points, the Tigers fought back from an 11-point deficit midway through the period.
Clemson took its first lead at 29-28 on Parker’s hook shot with 5:08 left, and went ahead by three points twice — the last at 33-30 on Williams’ layup with 3:21 left — before Georgia Tech came back to tie the score at 37-37 at the break.
After the Yellow Jackets pulled ahead in the opening minute of the second half on Montgomery’s 3-pointer, the Tigers responded with a 17-4 run to take command.
Parker’s hook shot with 17:40 left put Clemson ahead 41-40, and Taylor capped the run with a three-point play to give the Tigers a 54-44 lead with 14:31 remaining.
Clemson took its biggest lead — 13 points — later in the half, pulling ahead 65-52 on Pauldo’s three-point play with 5:08 left.