Clemson picked up a much needed win against fellow bubble team Virginia Tech. This win was a complete team effort. Guys were playing unselfish and the passing was crisper than it had been all season. We consistently found the open man, whether it was inside for a dunk or wide open for a 3. The highlight was a Brian Narcisse alley-oop slam where the pass appeared to be off target, but Narcisse was able to climb that ladder and throw it down with authority. Clemson would finish the game with 19 assists on 24 made baskets. We road that team play to a 15 point lead early in the 1st half. However, Virginia Tech was able to whittle that lead down to 4 by halftime due to a string of turnovers and lack of focus on defense.
Clemson regained control early in the second half with more superb passing, eventually pushing the lead back up to 15. Virginia Tech made a run late to cut it to a 6 point game, but Clemson knocked down their free throws and held on to win by 9. This is a huge win for Clemson, as they have finished ACC play at 9-7 with wins over fellow bubble teams Boston College and Virginia Tech. They also pick up a bye in the 1st round of the ACC tourney with this win.
It was a great way to send the seniors off. Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt played their last regular season home game, and hopefully the last home game of their careers. Both guys played very well tonight, which is usually the case when Clemson is victorious. Grant was able to finish around the rim without the threat of a taller defender swatting his shot. He finished with 17 points on 8-13 shooting. Stitt had a very good all-around game. He finished with 15 points on a very efficient 4-7 shooting (3-5 from behind the arc) to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Devin Booker and Andre Young also finished in double figures, with 14 and 11 respectively. Booker played like a man possessed. He finished well around the rim with follow-up dunks and dunks in traffic. This was the best I had seen him play this year and I want to see more of him playing like a big man down low and less free lancing around the perimeter. Young also had a dynamite game. He hit clutch 3’s every time Virginia Tech tried to make a run. Not only was he 3-6 from distance, but he added 6 assists and zero turnovers.
Last but not least is the 5th starter, Tanner Smith. His box score isn’t going to impress many people, but he had several hustle plays that kept possessions alive for Clemson. Not only that, but it set the tone for the team and for the rest of the game. Like I said earlier, it was a complete team effort. Without a true scoring star, this is the type of effort we need from these guys to beat quality opponents. As we’ve seen, if one or two of these guys has an off night our chances of winning go down the tubes. We have the potential to play well and beat NCAA tournament caliber teams, but our margin of error is slimmer than most.
Is this the game that puts Clemson on the right side of the bubble? Do we need to win our first game of the ACC tournament as well? Nobody knows for sure and a lot of it will depend on how the smaller conference tournaments play out. But this win has at least put Clemson in the conversation. Props to Coach Brownell for getting us to this position.