Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Milton Jennings was asked after the game how Clemson was able to bounce back after such a tough loss on Thursday night against FSU. He responded by saying something to the effect that this team hadn't yet learned what it takes to pull out wins in close games. He also admitted that their were doubts in their heads after blowing an early double digit lead over VT.
Not exactly confidence inspiring words, but it does seem to explain why this team has struggled so much down the stretch in close games. It was obvious for us fans to see that this team tightens up in close ball games, but when a player admits that they are doubting themselves it validates that theory. Did the FSU game serve as a learning experience that helped Clemson prevail in this one? That's tough to say. But one thing is certain, if some players had doubts they sure didn't show it down the stretch.
Lets start with Damarcus Harrison. The transfer from BYU was supposed to come in and more than adequately fill in for the injured Devin Coleman. Instead, his shot has been off and his confidence has been low. But in this game he got an easy lay-in early, knocked down a couple jump shots, and he started carrying himself with a level of confidence that was expected when he arrived on campus. With Clemson up 1 with under 3 minutes to go, Harrison calmly knocked down a three over the top of VT's zone defense to give Clemson some breathing room. This coming from a guy that came into the game shooting just 18% from behind the arc. It was exactly that type of cold-blooded shot making this team has been searching for in close game. Harrison was fantastic throughout the game, finishing with 19 points (6-10 fgs, 3-7 from three).
The next example of a player stepping up and making big plays in tight situations comes to you courtesy of Milton Jennings. After Devin Booker missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with a 5:30 left and a chance to give Clemson a 6 point lead, I thought this article would write itself. I'd harp on our inability to make foul shots down the stretch and how it would continue to be a detriment to us in close games. So when Milton Jennings went to the line for a 1-and-1 with 3:45 left and Clemson down by a point, I was naturally expecting a miss. Instead, Jennings made both and went 12-14 from the line in the last 3:45. It was stellar shooting from Jennings and the type of shooting you need to close out games like this. Jennings final line: 28 points and 14 rebounds. This was the best game of his career.
K.J. McDaniels also had a fantastic game and was the only other Tiger to score in double figures. He had his usual highlight reel dunk, when he follow-dunked Devin Booker's miss. VT's coach wanted McDaniels to get a technical for doing a chin up on the rim, but replays confirmed his chin was already well above the rim at the time of his dunk. Spectacular stuff. He also didn't let his 2 month long 3-point shooting slump effect his shot today. He scored 17 points on an extremely efficient 6-9 shooting (5-7 from three). I normally would have a problem with K.J. settling for 3's and not attacking the basket, and while I think there were some opportunities for that, VT was packing in their zone defense, and the opportunities were there for open 3-point looks.
Overall, it's good to see the team bounce back after a heartbreaking loss and pull out the W in such a close contest their next time out. It's even more impressive that they were able to do it with Devin Booker still far from 100% due to his illness. There isn't much time for celebrating this victory, however. Clemson hits the court again Tuesday night at home against GT with an opportunity to get back to .500 in conference play.