For those of you who have followed our basketball coverage on Shakin the Southland, you know that I don’t like the term “Must Win Game,” especially when it is spoken in January. The matchup between the Tigers and the Hokies has been described as a must win for Clemson all week as the Tigers had dropped five consecutive games against a brutal ACC Schedule, and returned home to Littlejohn Coliseum looking to protect their home court, and pick up their first home conference win of the season.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they once again failed to protect their homecourt as they dropped a close one, 82-81 against the Virginia Tech Hokies on Sunday evening. The weakness of the Tigers is clear at this point to the rest of the ACC, and the Hokies took advantage as the Clemson defense allowed Virginia Tech to shoot 54.7% from the field on the day and an astounding 60% in the second half.
The Hokies opened up in a 1-3-1 half court trap and would drop into a 2-3 zone that had the Tiger offense confused, and unable to get the offense running early. The Tiger’s answer to the zone defense was to shoot over top, which resulted in 5 of the Tigers first 7 shots coming from behind the arc, with only Avry Holmes connecting. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech would go on an early 7-0 run (with all points coming from Zack LeDay) to grab the early momentum. Blossomgame would finally penetrate to get a basket in the paint, and the foul to stop the bleeding.
Coach Brad Brownell spoke with the press prior to the game and talked about the teams need to improve on the defensive side of the ball, both individually and as a team in terms of rebounding and transition. Coach Brownell’s answer appeared to be inserting Sophomore Guard Ty Hudson for defensive support. The calling card for a Brad Brownell team has been its defense, and the defense is what was letting the Tigers down, as the beginning of the first half showed a poor effort on this side of the ball with players lost on screens and AGAIN the Tigers getting beat down the floor after a made basket, which is inexcusable in the game of basketball, and not the first time this has happened to the Tigers this season.
At the 8-minute mark, Clemson found themselves in trouble. Sidy Djitte joined Elijah Thomas on the bench with 2 fouls, and the Tigers were forced to go small. Virginia Tech would answer by making 5 of their next 5 field goals and go on a 10-2 run. Gabe DeVoe would stop the bleeding with a 3-pointer, but Clemson was establishing nothing in the paint and attempting to shot their way past the Hokies.
For Virginia Tech, it was all Zach LeDay who scored 12 first half points on 4-of-8 shooting which let the Virginia Tech lead balloon to as much as 9. With Jaron Blossomgame clearly hampered with the sprained thumb on his shooting hand, Donte Grantham took over. Scoring 10 first half points including two 3-pointers and a monster alley oop from Gabe DeVoe. Clemson managed to stay in the game in the first half by hitting 7-of-13 3-point field goals and headed to the locker room trailing 41-40, but the defensive effort would have to improve and they would have to find points in the paint in order to defend their home court against the Hokies.
Clemson opened the second half with some impressive hustle plays, including offensive rebounds on 3 possessions to start the 2nd half, and 5 before the first television timeout, leading to 7 2nd chance points. Clemson came out of the locker room with great energy and managed to grab its first lead at 44-43, but the effort just wasn’t translating to defensive execution. The Hokies continued to penetrate the lane at will and hit contested layups with Djitte having to stay out of foul trouble.
Clemson wasn’t going away, but Virginia Tech had the answer each and every time that they got the game within 1-point. Jaron Blossomgame was starting to find his stroke behind the 3-point line, but Seth Allen would answer each one of Blossomgame’s points to keep the Virginia Tech lead at 4. Avry Holmes would hit a corner 3 to tie the game at 60 with 10 minutes remaining and a Blossomgame dunk gave the tigers a 2-point lead which blew the lid off Littlejohn Coliseum.
The two teams would battle back and forth into the final minutes where Virginia Tech held a 70-69 lead with just under 1 minute to play. Unfortunately, Clemson has been involved in a number of these games this season, and they all seem to end the same way. Clemson just cannot get a stop when they need it at the end of the game. Chris Clark would make a layup while being fouled and nail the free-throw to extend the lead to four. Jaron Blossomgame would bring Clemson right back with a 3-pointer of his own, but once again, Seth Allen found himself wide open and nailed a 3-pointer to put Virginia Tech up 76-71 with only 30 seconds remaining. Virginia Tech would hit 6-of-6 free throws to ice away the game, and hand Clemson yet another ACC loss, 82-81.
Jaron Blossomgame and Avry Holmes led the Tigers with 20 points each. Blossomgame shot 8-of-17 from the field while Holmes was 5-of-9 from behind the arc. Donte Grantham was also impressive for the Tigers scoring 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting including 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Shelton Mitchell may not have put up large offensive numbers (5-points on the evening) but dished out 10 assists. Clemson was again outrebounded by another ACC opponent, 32-29, and their bench was outscored 35-19 by Virginia Tech, who played only 8 players on the night.
Virginia Tech was led in scoring by Seth Allen who scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and countless clutch 3-pointers as he was 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Zack LeDay scored 16 for the Hokies and Ahmed Hill rounded out the double figure scorers for the Hokies with 11 of his own. Virginia Tech shot 54.7% from the field and 16-of-17 from the free throw line. Virginia Tech managed only 12 assists to 12 turnovers, but the Clemson defense allowed Virginia Tech to penetrate in the lane with no passing required.
Clemson will return to action when they travel to Pittsburgh on 1/28. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage.