#19 Clemson inbounded the ball a few feet to the right side of their bench down 50-48 with 14 seconds left on the clock. The Tigers needed a big time shot in a big time moment. Virginia Tech built a narrow lead in the waning minutes off a few big shots of their own.
A couple minutes earlier, Hunter Cattoor knocked down a go-ahead three pointer with 2:47 left on the clock. Moments later, Grant Basile scored three straight points, the final point coming from the free throw line where he went 1-2 before Clemson’s last shot opportunity.
Fast forward back to the Tigers' late game possession and Clemson head coach Brad Brownell drew up a play to get his leading scorer Hunter Tyson a look at a go-ahead three. Just as they planned it, Tyson pump faked Cattoor out of the way, took one dribble to his right and raised up for the clutch dagger to put the Tigers up by a point. On the ensuing last shot possession, Cattoor had a look from downtown to win the game but missed the shot.
“They ran it the exact way we drew it up,” Mike Young told reporters postgame. “I’ll take that kid taking that shot any day of the week but he just missed it.”
Virginia Tech fell to the Clemson Tigers 51-50 from Littlejohn Coliseum in a thrilling back and forth contest that saw both sides fight until the very last buzzer. The Tigers improved to 8-1 in ACC play and 16-4 overall as they remain at the top of the conference standings. On the other side of the coin, the Hokies drop their seventh straight game and continue to tumble down the ACC standings with an 11-8 record and 1-7 in ACC play.
“Two teams fighting their tails off, scrapping, clawing and not giving an inch,” Young said. “It started that way and continued through the second half…low scoring and you're going to have some of those with Clemson.”
Throughout the first half, the Hokies' offensive production left plenty to be desired but was good enough to grab a lead. Tech shot just a hair under 43% from the field and 36% from three through the first 20 minutes of play. After a quick Hokies 2-0 lead, the Tigers held a lead for the majority of the second half.
Clemson led Tech from the 18 minute mark until 3:49 left in the first half when Sean Pedulla drilled a transition three to kickstarterted an 8-1 Hokies run. At the half, Tech held a 31-26 advantage, but were sloppy with their execution in doing so.
“We’ve got to have better activity, we’ve got to have better screening, we’ve got to have better ball reversal,” Young noted. “We don’t have that kind of margin for error right now.”
It was on the defensive end where the Hokies were sharper in their process and execution. Both teams went on significant scoring droughts with Tech holding Clemson to 11 points through a 17 minute stretch spanning across the halves. From just under the eight minute point of the first half through just under 11 minutes to go in the second half, Clemson only made one field goal and scored the rest off free throws.
“Coach was telling us to be more aggressive on the defensive end, use our athleticism and be more ratty on the ball to cause them to turn the ball over,” MJ Collins said postgame. “We had to be more physical with them and that slowed down their scoring.”
Turnovers were indeed a big factor in the outcome of the game as the Hokies and Tigers combined for 31 turnovers on the night. 17 of those miscues came on Clemson’s side while Tech notched 14 TO’s themselves. Both teams equally took advantage of the others' mistakes as the Hokies scored 18 points off those turnovers while the Tigers generated 17 points.
“They have a good defensive unit, they’ve been around and played a lot of ball. Brad’s teams are always well schooled and well drilled,” Young said. “Conversely, I thought the Hokies made it awfully tough on the Tigers as well.”
Even with the sloppy score and efficiency numbers, Tech still received much needed production from their main men in the frontcourt. Grant Basile was the Hokies' leading scorer, posting 13 points on 5-10 shooting to go along with eight rebounds.
Backup big man Lynn Kidd continued his stellar play, scoring 10 points on 4-6 shooting with three rebounds. However, Kidd did rack up four fouls which limited his impact. In particular, Tech’s defense had trouble defending PJ Hall. The Spartanburg, SC native scored a game-high 20 points on an efficient 7-15 shooting from the field.
“He’s a really good player, and they do a good job of feeding him the ball in spots where he can hurt you which makes it tough to defend.” Lynn Kidd said postgame.
The Hokies' starting guards were once again held in check and all posted low scoring outputs. Pedulla scored seven points and went 2-13. Cattoor knocked down a timely shot but ultimately still went 2-8 shooting. Last year’s ACC Tournament hero vs Clemson Darius Maddox didn’t score a single point and went 0-6 from the floor. If Tech’s guards were a bit more efficient, then it’s easy to think the Hokies would’ve come out as victors in Clemson.
“We’re just one game away, it takes one win. Today, we were right there,” Collins said. “One win away just to get that confidence back and then I believe you’ll see us win more.”
Virginia Tech has a quick turnaround as they face the Duke Blue Devils back in Cassell Coliseum Monday night at 7 PM. After three straight road games, Tech believes being back in Blacksburg will give them an extra boost to try to get over the hump and begin turning their season around.
“You turn the page and you move on,” Young said. “It will be nice to get home after three straight on the road, we’ve got 12 more and it’s a pretty good time to win a few in a row.”