Clemson traveled to Blacksburg, VA for their sixth (and third consecutive) ACC road game. The Hokies started off ACC play 4-1 with a great win over UVA, but have lost five straight as their schedule really toughened up. The Tigers were coming off a road win at Wake Forest and their best half of basketball all season, as they stormed back and beat the Deacons by scoring 56 points in the second half.
With the news of Louisville self-imposing a postseason ban, the Tigers can realistically seek a double-bye in the ACC tournament. Aside from Louisville, KenPom ranks just UNC and Virginia above the Tigers (games through 2/5/16).
The game in Cassell Coliseum began as a defensive battle. Through the first 8 minutes, Clemson led 10-7 as both teams struggled offensively (Clemson eFG% 45.5, VT 25.0 eFG%).
Clemson's offense began showing life mid-way through the first half. One notable play came with just under nine minutes when a block led to a transition opportunity that Roper converted off an Avry Holmes assist. Scoring in transition is something this year's Tiger team has been better at. That play was followed shortly thereafter with a Nnoko put-back to push the lead to to seven points at 16-9 with less than 8:00 in the first half.
Nnoko made a concerted effort to avoid foul trouble. He could be seen avoiding unnecessary contact, and while this led to a few more buckets in the post, it went a long way in keeping Nnoko in the game and contributing on offense. Virginia Tech chipped away at the lead, closing out the half strong, and trailed the Tigers by only two points, 22-24 at halftime.
Virginia Tech's defense remained tough in the second half, while their shots started to fall. Jaron Blossomgame really struggled in this game. He wasn't finding his usually scrappy points off offensive rebounds and great cuts, and seemed to be forcing challenging off-balance looks in the paint. Landry Nnoko was largely responsible for keeping the Tigers in the game as the Hokies controlled the game throughout much of the half. The Tigers were down 12 with about 7:30 remaining in the game.
At that point, Clemson seized control of the game. Jordan Roper became very involved in the offense, and they pulled within three with just under four minutes in the game. The Tigers would cut it to one a few times, once on a emphatic Landry Nnoko salm dunk that followed a near 5-second violation on the in-bound.
Finally, trailing by three, Jaron Blossomgame attacked the basket, got fouled, and finished the lay-up. At the line with just seconds remaining and a chance to tie, his free throw rimmed out. After Virginia Tech continued knocking down free throws, the Tigers would get one last chance - needing a three to tie. Roper took it up the court, but let the clock tick down to under five seconds. Knowing he is our best three-point shooter and wouldn't be looking to pass, they swarmed him. Roper covered up the ball. By the time the ball came out off the pack, the Tigers were unable to get up any shot, and Clemson lost 57-60. Free throws were largely the difference in the game. Both teams earned 16 attempts from the charity stripe, but the Hokies made 14, while the Tigers made just 10. Missed attempts by Blossomgame and Holmes with under a minute remaining doomed the Tigers.
The loss drops Clemson to 7-4 in the ACC. Clemson plays Notre Dame in Greenville on Monday in what is now a must win game if the Tigers want a double-bye in the ACC tournament or a strong chance to crack the NCAA tournament field.