CLEMSON – Just as it had done three days ago against Florida State, the Clemson basketball team built a big lead and let it slip away - this time against Virginia Tech.
Unlike last Thursday’s 60-57 gut-wrenching loss however, this one had a happy ending for the Tigers.
Senior forward Milton Jennings came up huge for Clemson, filling it up for 28 points and grabbing 14 rebounds as the Tigers held off the Hokies for a 77-70 victory on Sunday at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Clemson improves to 11-8 on the season and 3-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Tech drops to 11-8, 2-4.
“Great win for our team today,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “I’m really happy for a bunch of our players, especially Milton. K.J. (McDaniels) got us off to a great start and Damarcus (Harrison) played like the guy I was recruiting a couple of year s ago.”
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with Virginia Tech taking a 59-58 lead with 4:43 remaining and instilling a sense of dread in many of the 7,980 fans.
But on this day the Tigers were able to face down adversity, going ahead to stay at 61-60 on a Jennings free throw 3:20 from the finish and saving its largest lead of the half for the end.
While FSU beat Clemson on a desperation shot at the buzzer, the Tigers gained just enough wiggle room down the stretch to make that kind of finish impossible for Sunday’s visitors. Good defense and good free throw shooting (23-of-29 for the game, 15 of 19 in the second half) were the keys.
“Against Florida State I think we played 39 and a half minutes of great basketball, they just made that shot at the end,” Jennings said. “They were at home and they pulled it out. Today we were at home and we faced the same kind of adversity, but this time we came out and got the job done. This is definitely one of my happiest moments as a Clemson player.”
Harrison had 19 points and McDaniels finished with 17 on an afternoon when the Tigers shot 44.9 percent from the floor and drained 10 threes.
Devin Booker battled flu-like symptoms but still managed 10 boards as Clemson outrebounded Tech, 42-33.
The nation’s leading scorer, Virginia Tech’s Erick Green, hit his average of 25 points but 11 came from the charity stripe. Teammate Jarell Eddie added 19 points in a losing effort.
“We harassed him on all ball screens,” Brownell said of Green. “He draws unbelievable amounts of free throws and fouls and I wasn’t happy about some of those, but he sees two or three plays ahead better than most college kids.”
Clemson got off to an extremely fast start, outscoring the Hokies 12-0 in the early going and keeping Virginia Tech off the board until Green ended his team’s drought with a bucket at the 13:22 mark.
K.J. McDaniels' put-back slam (Per the ACC)
Less than 10 minutes into the opening half McDaniels already had three 3-pointers and the Tigers were threatening to turn this one into a laugher before intermission.
But Tech slowly whittled away at the deficit, both from the free throw line and when their outside shots finally began to fall.
When Green hit two free throws with 2:37 remaining in the half the Clemson lead was down to four at 31-27, and a turnover that was converted into a dunk by Robert Brown at the 2:18 mark closed the gap to 31-29.
Green brought the Hokies all the way back at 1:52 with a pair of foul shots that knotted things up at 31-all, and the half ended with the teams tied 33-33.
Green wound up with 14 points at the break and Johnson’s team was 12-of-15 from the line.
“They made shots today,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. “We’re not in a position to guide their post guys inside and we made them come out and try things they hadn’t done well this year and they did them well today. They made some contested shots.“
The Tigers return to Littlejohn on Tuesday when Georgia Tech comes in for a 7 p.m. tip.
“That’s a quick turnaround from a Sunday game,” Harrison said. “We just have to come out and play defense and grind them. We need to build on what we did today and get another win at home.”