The Tigers entered at 5-0, but left Blacksburg, Virginia with their first loss of the season and begin ACC play 0-1.
Clemson started Nick Honor, Al-Amir Dawes, Clyde Trapp, Aamir Simms, and Jonathan Baehre. Those starting five would eventually account for 52 of the team’s 60 points, but they got off to a slow start. After 10 minutes of play, both teams were tied with just 10 points each. Eight of Clemson’s 10 points were from bench players (Chase Hunter 4, PJ Hall 2, John Newman 2). The Tigers would not get another point from the bench the rest of the game. Hunter Tyson did not play after suffering a knee to the head in the Alabama game.
The Tigers relied on the relentless pressure from their man-to-man defense to hang around while the offense struggled. Dawes appeared to be the only Tiger in rhythm in the first half. He hit a three-pointer to give the Tigers a brief 24-23 lead and another trey to bring the Tigers back within two (29-27) after the Hokies scored six straight. He finished with 10 first half points and the teams went into the break with Virginia Tech leading 32-27.
The Tigers committed 11 personal fouls in the first half to the Hokies 7. Virginia Tech’s ability to get to the line would be a huge difference maker in what was an extremely physical basketball game.
Already with a five point lead, the Hokies jumped all over the Tigers from the outset of the second half. On the very first play, Aamir Simms committed his third foul of the game. Coach Brownell left him in, but the Hokies went on a 13-2 run to take a 16-point lead over the Tigers (45-29) anyway.
Finally, Simms knocked down a three-pointer to end a seven minute scoring drought and the Tigers began to chip away. Excellent defense held the Hokies to just one bucket from the 6:50 mark all the way until there were under two minutes remaining. That allowed Clemson to cut the lead down to just four points (57-53).
A three-pointer from Nick Honor eventually brought the Tigers within two points with 45 seconds remaining, but a Hokie layup forced the Tigers to foul in the final seconds and VT made all four free throws down the stretch, making a comeback nearly impossible.
The loss isn’t totally devastating. The Tigers are still 5-1 (0-1), but it’s the third straight loss to the Hokies and it feels a bit like the offense is coming back to earth. They rank 73rd nationally in efficiency while the defense is 2nd in the country. We knew a poor shooting night was coming. What was strange is that the Tigers shot .400 from three (10-25), and only 9-25 from two (.360). The Hokies defense was excellent and their ability to get to the free throw line made the difference. They made 13 more free throws than the Tigers on the night. They earned the win with gritty play and clutch shots down the stretch.
The Tigers’ game this weekend against U of SC was postponed due to COVID in the Cock’s program so Clemson will look to bounce back at home against Morehead State on December 22nd. Hopefully they’ll make up the U of SC game later this season.