Will the trend continue?

CLEMSON - While the series between Clemson and Virginia Tech has been extremely close, the Tigers have found a way to win each of the last four games played between these two teams.

WHAT: Virginia Tech (16-10, 6-6) at No. 12 Clemson (22-4, 8-4)
WHERE: Littlejohn Coliseum (10,000) - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 25 (7:30 PM)
SPREAD: Tigers by 10.5
TV: ESPN-2 (Rece Davis, Hubert Davis)


And usually those games have come down to the final seconds as each one has been decided by five points or less.

Add in the fact Tech blew a 15-point second half lead in an 88-82 loss to the Tigers at Cassell Coliseum earlier this year and that the Hokies have lost a plethora of close games throughout their season, it all adds up to one of the most motivated teams in the ACC entering the last two weeks of the regular season.

"There's such a fine line between winning and losing," Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said. "We've lost five or six games basically on the last possession of the game.

"The ability to get that last stop or score that last basket is really the difference between winning 16 games and winning 20 or 21. But that's college basketball and that's playing in this league. You just have to get ready for the next game and the next game is against Clemson."

Clemson defeated Virginia Tech back on Jan. 29 despite Malcolm Delaney going off for 37 points, including drilling a 65-foot shot shortly before halftime.

And no doubt he'll be a focal point of Clemson's defensive plan tonight at Littlejohn Coliseum.

"Well he's playing as well as any guard in the league," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "Whether he's playing on the ball or off the ball he's a threat to attack in a number of different ways.

Junior forward Trevor Booker enters Thursday night's game at Virginia Tech averaging 15.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest.
"Then you have [A.J.] Vassallo- he's just a guy that can heat it up and score points in bunches. And [Jeff] Allen gives them their inside presence. He's very versatile and can step out and go off the dribble."

While the Hokies are fighting for their postseason lives, Clemson is fighting to be one of the top four teams in the league so that it can get that all-important bye in the ACC tournament in two weeks, not to mention a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

If the Tigers are going to improve their NCAA resume, they may have to do it without their trademark full-court pressure.

Virginia Tech, behind the strong play of Delaney, routinely dismantled Clemson's extended defense in Blacksburg last month before Clemson moved back into a half court defense.

Once the transition was made, the complexion of the game completely changed as the Tigers rallied from 15 points down for the win.

"We did a good job of with their full court pressure but we didn't do as good of a job attacking their blitzes of the ball screens," Greenberg said. "So we have to do a much better job there."

Meanwhile Purnell has plenty of concerns of his own- like making sure his team can get off to a fast start compared to what is has in each of its last five games.

For whatever reason, Clemson plays better in the second half or once it falls behind by double digits instead of firing on all cylinders straight out of the gates.

Consider: the Tigers fell behind 27-12 in their last game at Georgia Tech before rallying to win by eight. The week before Clemson led Maryland by four in the second half before winning by 29.

The Tigers also fell behind to Virginia and Boston College earlier in the month as well.

"I haven't given up on us finding a way to get out of the gates faster," Purnell said. "We want to find a way to get off to better starts. We'd love to see us come out really strong because obviously that gives you that much more of an opportunity to have a great game.

"We'll try a few things in warm-ups trying to be more intense, more structured. We'll try to work up more of a sweat and we'll see if that helps."

Regardless of how Clemson starts, Wednesday's night matchup promises to be more of the same kind of games played between these two rivals over the years: close, physical and full of big plays.

And from the Tigers' perspective, they hope their trend of winning close games continues.

No. 11 Clemson (22-4)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2,175) - 8.5 PPG, 3.8 APG
G #22 Terrence Oglesby (6-2,190) - 13.3 PPG, 1.9 APG
C #12 Raymond Sykes (6-9,220) - 8.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG
F #1 K.C. Rivers (6-5,215) - 14.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7,240) - 15.2 PPG, 9.2 RPG

Virginia Tech (16-10)
G #23 Malcolm Delaney (6-3,170) - 18.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG
G #40 A.D. Vassallo (6-6,216) - 18.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG
F #33 J.T. Thompson (6-6,210) - 4.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG
F #00 Jeff Allen (6-7,230) - 14.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG
F #14 Victor Davila (6-8,245) - 3.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG

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