CLEMSON, S.C. — As expected, the Virginia Tech-Clemson basketball series stayed true to form, coming down to the final few possessions. This time around, though, Tech got two clutch free throws from A.D. Vassallo and played terrific defense in the waning seconds to secure an 80-77 victory over the Tigers in an ACC game played Wednesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The win allowed Tech to avenge an 86-82 loss to Clemson on Jan. 29, a game in which the Hokies let a 15-point lead slip away. With the victory, Tech snapped a three-game losing streak overall and a four-game skid to the Tigers. The Hokies, who knocked off their second ranked opponent on the road this season (Wake Forest), moved to 17-10 overall, 7-6 in the league. Clemson, ranked 12th in one poll and 13th in another, fell to 22-5, 8-5 in the ACC.
“When you consider the recent history between these two teams, a three-point win almost seems like a blowout,” Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said, referring to the close games in this series – the past eight have been decided by five points or less. “These games have turned into epic games. They’re [Clemson] so good and they play so hard and they’re so well coached. We just kind of scrummed around a little bit and found a way to win, and I’m really proud of our guys.
“I talked to our guys and made a point to tell them to go out and play hard, but also to be tough. You can play hard and lose. I thought we were tough tonight.”
The victory also eased some of the pain from Tech’s string of close losses. On the season, Tech has lost five games on the final possession, including its previous game against Florida State in which Seminoles guard Toney Douglas hit a shot with six seconds left that turned out to be the game winner.
“Hopefully, this will get us over the edge,” Tech guard Malcolm Delaney said. “We had lost three straight, and I’d almost forgot how it felt to win a game, especially one of these close games. Every time we play Clemson, it’s going to come down to a three-, two-, one-point game. We took that lead in the second half, but we knew they were gong to make that run. As long as we limited that run, we’re fine and that’s what we did.”
Tech led 78-75 and had the ball when Delaney missed a tough shot in the paint with 34 seconds left and Jeff Allen’s follow-up rolled off the rim. The Tigers quickly kicked the ball ahead to Trevor Booker, who made a lay-up with 20.5 seconds remaining to cut the Tech lead to 78-77.
After a timeout, the Hokies got the ball inbounds to Vassallo against Clemson’s pressure. The Tigers’ Demontez Stitt fouled Vassallo with 12.5 seconds remaining, sending him to the free-throw line.
Facing a raucous Clemson student section, Vassallo buried them both to give the Hokies an 80-77 lead.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t see a sea of orange,” Vassallo said. “All I saw was the orange rim. I was going to force them to hit a 3-pointer. There was no way I was going to let them beat us on a buzzer beater. There was no way. I just stepped up and knocked them down.”
After Vassallo’s free throws, Clemson pushed the ball up the floor and got it into the hands of Terrence Oglesby – the Tigers’ hot hand on this evening. But Tech’s Dorenzo Hudson played good defense, and the Hokies, as a unit, played the possession perfectly. Stitt threw up a prayer toward the rim at the buzzer that didn’t come close, and Tech walked away with its third ACC road win of the season.
“We couldn’t let Oglesby get a shot off,” Delaney said. “We had to make someone else take a shot. As long as we kept it out of Oglesby’s and [K.C.] Rivers’ hands, we were in good shape.”
Delaney won scoring honors over Oglesby in this one, finishing with 26 points on 8-of-19 from the floor and 4-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also dished out six assists.
Vassallo added 21 points, hitting 6-of-14 from the floor, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc. As a team, Tech shot only 43.3 percent, but tied a season high with 11 3-pointers. The Hokies hit 11-of-19 from beyond the arc, a 57.9 percentage that easily is their season high.
Oglesby paced Clemson 22 points and he, too, hit four 3-pointers. Booker added 21 points and 13 rebounds.
The Tigers shot 42.2 percent for the game, but hit just 36.1 percent in the second half, as Tech’s defense stiffened – perhaps no more so than on that final Clemson possession.
“The last possession of the game, I was really proud,” Greenberg said. “Because we hadn’t been able to get that stop or that 50-50 ball to finish a game. So I was really proud that we were able to get that stop and win the way we want to try and win.”
“I give them [the Hokies] a lot of credit,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said of the Hokies. “We hit them with a blow early, but they were steely-eyed and tough. They came up with a lot of toughness plays down the stretch.”
Tech returns to Cassell Coliseum for its next game. The Hokies will take on Duke this Saturday, with the tip off slated for 3:30 p.m. Tech lost to the Blue Devils 69-44 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 4.
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