Whatever the reason, the Tigers found themselves on the wrong end of a 80-77 score Wednesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum, and no matter what kind of explanation you can think of, it doesn't make it any better for Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell nor the rest of the team.
With a chance to move into sole possession of second place in the ACC, the Tigers simply couldn't find a way to put the ball in the basket with the game on the line.
"Down the stretch we just couldn't make a shot in the lane," Purnell said. "Book was 2-for-9 [in the second half] and we got him the ball where we wanted. Demontez slashed inside and couldn't get it to go down.
"I thought at the end it came down to us needing a shot and we couldn't make it."
Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg put it all in prospective in his first comment to the media afterwards, "When you consider the recent history of these games, a three-point win is like a blowout. These games have turned into epic games, they really have."
Malcolm Delaney scored 26 points and A.D. Vassalo added 21 as the Hokies beat Clemson for the first time in five tries, strengthening their hopes for the NCAA Tournament and exacting revenge on the same team that beat them on their home floor earlier this year.
In each of the last four games against Tech, Clemson had gotten the best of its Atlantic Coast Conference rival, winning by less than five points on each occasion, but Wednesday night, it wasn't to be.
After jumping out to an early 14-7 advantage, the Tigers faltered for most of the rest of the first half, committing 13 turnovers while barely holding on to a 38-35 lead.
"I was really disappointed with our ball handling in the first half," Purnell said. "We just weren't very sharp with the ball. We sturggled with that against Virignia a few weeks ago. That kept us from having a pretty good working margin at halftime."
Trevor Booker led the way with 15 points, but as soon as the second half started, it was easy to tell the Hokies meant business.
Tech stormed out of the gates quickly establishing a 1-point lead on a layup by Hank Thorns less than two minutes into the second half.
And in a game that seemed to lack any sort of flow whatsoever, it just started to feel like it might be Virginia Tech's night.
Case in point, with 9:07 remaining in the game and Clemson trailing 68-61, Trevor Booker had three point blank shots at the basket.
None of them went in.
Three seconds later a ball that looked like it was touched by Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen as it went out of bounds, was awarded back to the Hokies.
"Some nights you just don't make the shots," Purnell said. "I thought they did a pretty good job of contesting [Booker]. He just didn't drop them in there."
Meanwhile Vassallo got things rolling for Tech in the second half, hitting a barrage of back-breaking three pointers to give the Hokies some much-needed confidence. Virginia Tech also had success breaking Clemson's full-court pressure, in a similar way it did in the first matchup on Jan. 29.
Still, the Tigers found a way to come roaring back. Terrence Oglesby drilled two three-pointers from the right side in less than 45 seconds and just like that the game was tied at 68.
With the Littlejohn crowd roaring, it seemed like the Tigers may have finally found their rhythm and found a way to beat the Hokies for the fifth consecutive time.
But Greenberg called a time out to settle his players down and it appeared to work.
"That was going to happen eventually," he said of the run. "But [I told the team] just stay together and get stops. I wanted to get that timeout and get them to understand that that is going to happen."
Four quick points by Terrell Bell quickly gave the Hokies a lead that would never be relinquished.
A fastbreak layup by Booker pulled Clemson within one with 20 seconds left, but A.D Vassallo made two free throws after being fouled and the Tigers were only able to get a desparation three pointer off by Demontez Stitt right before the buzzer sounded.
The play was originally setup for Oglesby, but he couldn't create enough separation to get a clean look. He passed it back to Stitt who took an off-balance three while trying to draw a foul.
The shot didn't even draw the iron as time ran out in the three-point defeat.
And while he didn't say it after the game, it sure looked like Greenberg was breathing a big sigh of relief, having previously lost five games earlier this year on the final possession.
"The last possession of the game I was really proud because we haven't been able to get that stop. I was really proud of the way we won," he said.
Oglesby led the Tigers in scoring with 22 points while Booker added 21 and 13 rebounds.
"I give them credit," Purnell said. "We came out of the blocks well, but they were tough and came up with big plays."
The Tigers return to the hardwood Saturday afternoon at Florida State.
Tip-off is set for 1:00 PM.
Hokies find a way
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