The answer is … the Tigers.
The Hokies' Carlos Dixon stole a soft Vernon Hamilton bounce pass intended for Shawan Robinson and raced the other way for a dunk with 6.9 seconds left to play to give the Hokies a 59-57 victory Saturday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum.
Clemson had a chance to win and tie the game, but a 3-point shot by Robinson was off, as was a desperate tip by Olu Babalola.
"I lost this one," Hamilton said. "I thought he was open, but Carlos closed the gap. … I feel like I really let us down tonight. This is a game that Coach (Oliver) Purnell had been preaching to us that it was so important to win."
As a result of the loss drops the Tigers to 10-6 overall and 1-3 in the ACC. Virginia Tech improves to 8-6, 1-2.
What makes the loss sting even more is the fact that for one of the few times in several years, Clemson was actually favored to win the game.
"It's real disappointing," Purnell said. "It's a frustrating result for us. I really felt we had a chance to come up here and get a second road win."
As Purnell pointed out after the game, there were several reasons why the Tigers lost. However, some of the main keys were turnovers, free throw shooting and Clemson's inability to get forward Sharrod Ford the ball in the second half.
The Tigers had 23 turnovers for the game, three of which came with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Those last miscues led to the last four Virginia Tech points.
"We should have been playing for overtime at the least," Purnell said. "We turned the ball over two or three times at critical times."
In the second half, the Hokies were 13-of-15 from the free throw line, while Clemson was just 5-of-10 for the entire game.
Then there was the disappearance of Ford, who had 10 points at halftime. All three of Ford's baskets in the second half came from stick-backs on offensive rebounds. The offense, which looked for him continuously in the first half, more or less stopped doing so completely in the second half.
"We just couldn't get (the ball) in there," Ford said. "This game was in our hands and we just let it slip away."
After a slow start in the first half by both teams, the Tigers finally got their offense in motion and went on a 12-2 run to take a 20-12 advantage with 6:11 to play.
However, forward Ford picked up his third foul for Clemson with 4:49 left in the first half in part because Akin Akingbala didn't go completely to the scorer's table to check in.
After Ford picked up his second foul, Purnell instructed Akingbala to take Ford's place, but the junior only went half way to the scorer's table and was never given the OK to enter the game.
Some 10 seconds later, Ford was whistled with his third foul and was forced to sit the bench the rest of the half. He also sat nearly the first four minutes of the second half.
"We didn't even run to the (scorer's) table quick enough," Purnell said. "But Sharrod's got to be smart enough not to pick up his third foul."
But the Hokies scored on five straight possessions and cut the lead to 24-21 with 2:52 left in the half, before the Tigers put together another surge, sparked by two 3-point shots by guard Cliff Hammonds to grab a 32-21 lead with 1:40 to go and eventually hold a 32-25 advantage at halftime.
Even though Wake Forest handed the Tigers their worst home loss in 50 years last week, this one stings even more.
"This one is way worse than the Wake Forest loss," Hamilton said. "For us to be so close is what makes it really, really hard. Against Wake Forest, we were never in control."
Ford led Clemson with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Hammonds added 12 points. The Hokies were paced by Zabian Dowdell with 15, as teammates Jamon Gordon added 14 and Dixon 12.
Things get much tougher for Clemson as it faces North Carolina Wednesday at 9 p.m. at Littlejohn Coliseum.
|Officials:||Ray Natili, Roger Ayers, -|