The difference in this game was the first 10 minutes. Clemson was run off the court in the first 10 minutes of play, managing a measly 9 points in those first 10 minutes. That led to a 14 deficit just a quarter of the way through. Virginia Tech would take that difference into the locker room at halftime with a 42-26 lead. It’s hard enough to win on the road in conference play, but digging yourself an early hole is almost impossible to get out of.
In the 2nd half the Hokies were able to keep Clemson at arms length for the majority of the half. Every time it looked like we were going to make a run, they’d come back with a bucket. Dorian Finney-Smith made several clutch shots, which was surprising considering he was 0 for his last 24 attempts from the field coming into this game.
At the 4 minute mark we made our last run, sparked by an excellent follow-up and-one by freshman Bernard Sullivan. I can’t say enough about the effort and the heart our guys showed down the stretch. Booker, Smith, Sullivan, Young, and McDaniels was the lineup that was leading the charge. Brownell showed a full court press defense that sped up VT and forced them into a couple turnovers and bad shots.
With just under 30 seconds left, Victor Davila missed the front end of a 1 and 1, leaving the Tigers down 2 with a chance to tie or take the lead. Brownell let them go initially without a timeout, but as the possession was starting to fall apart he called a timeout with 11 seconds left. Brownell showed tremendous confidence in his freshman and isolated McDaniels at the top of the key. McDaniels made a great move and got to the rim where he was fouled. He missed the first, intentionally missed the 2nd, where the rebound was tipped out to the corner to Tanner Smith for an open look at the buzzer that just rimmed off.
I feel bad for Kevin McDaniels. He played one helluva game and has to be feeling terrible right now about that one missed free throw. If you’ve never had to shoot free throws with the game on the line, you don’t realize the amount of pressure and nerves that run through you, especially for a freshman on the road in ACC play. The kid has to keep his head up because this loss is definitely not on him.
One of the reasons it’s so hard to win on the road is it’s difficult for the players to maintain their intensity for 40 minutes without the home crowd behind them. That was definitely the case today. Our intensity level in the last 10 minutes was unbelievable and much greater than it was at any previous point during the game. I think playing the more athletic guys like Booker, Sullivan, and McDaniels together helps raise the energy level up. Those guys seem to feed off of each other and really get after it on the backboard.
Here are some more random thoughts I jotted down during today’s game.
- When I talk about Clemson’s defense not being up to snuff compared to last year, I’m referring to 2 things in particular: defensive rebounding and finding shooters in transition. Baciu gets himself out of position on the defensive glass and is too slow to recover. He tries to come over to help, but isn't a shot blocker. At one point in the 2nd half he grab an uncontested defensive rebound but was slightly off balance and just started walking with the ball. Having a center that cannot rebound is obviously a huge liability. In addition, our guards have mental lapses and completely lose their man, usually the best shooter on the opposing team.
- Brian Narcisse should not be starting. I know we’re thin on talent now and we have 5 freshmen seeing playing time, but he does not bring any redeeming quality to the table for this team. At one point we had Booker, Smith, Hall, Coleman, and Narcisse on the floor. Are you kidding me? That’s playing 2 against 5.
- KJ McDaniels dunks at will. The kid has phenomenal athleticism. And he’s so smooth and under control, unlike someone else that starts at the 3 and is completely out of control. He played a great, great game and will continue to see significant minutes. Clemson fans should be giddy about this kid. His ceiling is ridiculously high.
- Seth Greenberg is still a jerk. Running and shouting at Smith when he is shooting a 3 from the corner is Busch League, especially when you’re up 15 in the first half.