Tigers Finally Win the Close One

So many times this year, the Clemson basketball team has lost games it had no business losing. For once, the tables were turned where the Tigers actually won a game it had no business winning.

Virginia Tech shot nearly 57 percent from the field, had 17 more points off the bench, 28 more points in the paint, 16 more fastbreak points and eight more blocked shots, nonetheless when it was all said and done, the Tigers walked out of Cassell Coliseum with an 86-81 victory Wednesday night.

Trailing 79-72 with 3:41 left to play, Clemson outscored the Hokies 14-2 the rest of the way to secure the win and improve to 17-11 overall and 6-9 in the ACC. The 17 wins are the most by a Tigers team since the 1998-99 season, and the six league wins are the most for Clemson since the 1997-98 season.

"We didn't have trouble scoring all night, we just couldn't stop them," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Finally we got some stops but we continued to score."

By getting the win, the worst the Tigers will be seeded heading into next week's ACC Tournament is ninth. Virginia Tech drops to 14-14 overall and 4-11 in the ACC.

Leading the way for Clemson was center Akin Akingbala, who scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds. The 21 points ties his career high.

"The guy's had a hell of a year," Purnell said. "He really has had a heck of a year."

In the end, what did the Hokies in are the same things that killed Clemson in some of its tough losses. They made just 12-of-23 free throw shots. Conversely, the Tigers were outstanding, making 21-of-27 free throws.

The other thing that played into Clemson's favor was its three-point shooting, where it went 13-of-22 from beyond the arc. At one point in the second half, 10 straight baskets by the Tigers were all three-pointers.

"If we don't shoot free throws tonight, we're not in the game," Purnell said. "It's a gratifying win because I thought we took Virginia Tech's best shot. Our guys just kind of hung in there and kept trying and wouldn't quit. Three-point shooting and free throw shooting came up big tonight."

Purnell pointed to one reason as to why the Tigers were successful shooting from long range.

"That's Akin," he said. "They're double and triple teaming him. That opens up some things."

In the final seconds, Virginia Tech trailed 83-81, but had the ball. Hokies guard Zabian Dowdell had was dribbling out on the wing when Clemson guard Vernon Hamilton deflected the ball off Dowdell's leg and out of bounds to give the Tigers the ball with 11.3 seconds remaining.

Upset by a no-call, Hokies coach Seth Greenberg picked up a technical, which all but ended the game, as Shawan Robinson sank two free throws. Robinson finished with 17 points, all of which came in the second half.

Up next for Clemson is the final home and regular season game as it takes on Georgia Tech at 2 p.m., Saturday.

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