ATLANTA -- The high-wire act coach Oliver Purnell warned about finally caught up to No. 24 Clemson.
The Tigers followed the largest comeback in program history with a precipitous fall only mildly massaged by their built-in safety net.
Georgia Tech capitalized on one of Clemson's most inept defensive performances of the season Thursday night, clinging to a 80-75 victory that neither team appeared desperate to grab.
"It wasn't the sense of urgency we needed," Purnell said. "Porous is the word I used, and I'll stick with it."
In the wake of its 20-point rally Sunday to beat Maryland in the waning seconds, Purnell cautioned the Tigers had lived on the edge with their inability to put together a pair of inspired halves.
Even though they successfully schemed a pair of potentially game-tying open looks in the final 30 seconds, players and Purnell alike admittedly believed they got their just desserts.
Clemson (21-8, 9-6 ACC) missed out on the chance to match the school record for single-season ACC wins as well as secure a first-day bye in next week's conference tournament.
It can still snag third place in the league by beating Virginia Tech (9-6 ACC) in Sunday's 1:30 p.m. home regular-season finale. And if Miami stumbles Saturday at Florida State, the Tigers will finish at least fourth and receive the first-round bye.
"Now, it's anybody's game down the stretch," Purnell said. "Maybe you stay up on the high wire, maybe you don't."
Senior guard Cliff Hammonds had 15 points and eight rebounds, while senior forward James Mays tallied 13 points and nine boards.
But the Tigers went just 4 of 19 from 3-point range, committed 20 turnovers and allowed Georgia Tech to shoot 52 percent.
Anthony Morrow led five players in double figures with 16 points as the Yellow Jackets (13-16, 6-9) prevailed for just the second time in eight games.
At the end of his post-game press conference, Purnell tapped his fist three times on the table, openly displaying the frustration in Clemson's failure to carry over the momentum from the Maryland triumph.
Clemson led 26-13 after the opening eight minutes until its transition defense short-circuited.
With Georgia Tech's big men sprinting ahead of the pack uncontested, the Yellow Jackets shot 60 percent in the first half and unofficially netted 27 fast-break points -- an emphasis in the Tigers' pre-game scouting report.
"It was just effort," Hammonds said. "We slacked up and thought we could outscore them. What happened tonight is what happens when we don't go with what got us here."
Nonetheless, Clemson still had multiple late opportunities to atone.
Georgia Tech forward Zach Peacock missed a pair of gimmes inside to give Clemson the chance to tie trailing 76-73 with under a minute left.
Freshman guard Terrence Oglesby, who nailed the Maryland game-winner, missed a 3 on a freshly designed inbounds play, but the Tigers regained possession when Hammonds corralled the rebound.
After a Hammonds free throw trimmed the deficit to 76-74 with 0:22 left, Clemson again retained possession when Georgia Tech's Jeremis Smith booted Hammonds' subsequent miss out of bounds.
On the inbound pass from under its own basket, Clemson sprung guard K.C. Rivers cutting to the hoop. Rivers, though, short-armed the reverse lay-up, and Purnell protested the lack of a foul call to no avail.
Peacock iced the outcome with four free throws in the final 17 seconds.
"We got the ball exactly where we wanted it twice," Purnell said.
"Any time you get into a 'H.O.R.S.E.' shooting contest, that what happens sometimes."