Hokies Blow Late Lead, Lose to Clemson 86-81

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Virginia Tech lost another tough ACC contest on Wednesday night, falling 86-81 to the visiting Clemson Tigers in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies held a seven point lead late in the game, but were outscored 14-2 by Clemson down the stretch. The Tigers improve to 17-11 overall, with a 6-9 mark in ACC play. Tech drops to 14-14 overall and 4-11 in the ACC.

This game was expected to be a low-scoring, defensive battle like most Virginia Tech-Clemson games. However the game turned into a shootout, and the Hokies couldn’t keep up with the Tigers, who rank last in ACC games in field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage. Tech played a brilliant offensive game for most of the night, up until the final minutes when they played conservatively with a seven point lead.

From a statistics standpoint, the Hokies played their best offensive game of the year. They scored 81 points, the most they have scored since they beat North Carolina A&T 94-66. It was their second-highest scoring output of the season. Tech shot 32-of-56 from the field, a 57.1% mark. They also hit 5-of-11 three-point attempts, good for 45.5%. But free throw shooting, as usual, was a struggle. The Hokies connected on just 12-of-23 shots from the charity stripe, a poor 52.2% mark.

Coming into the game, Clemson was shooting just 41.2% in conference play. They didn’t shoot much better overall against the Hokies, posting a 43.3% mark. But their three-point and free throw shooting was off the charts. Clemson entered the game hitting 30.2% from three-point range, but connected on 13-22 shots against Tech, for a mark of 59.1%. The Tigers actually shot better from the three-point line than the Hokies did from the free throw line. Clemson entered the game hitting just 62.5% from the free throw line, but hit 21-27 free throws against Tech for a mark of 77.8%.

The Tigers were 11-of-14 from three-point range in the second half. They hit just four two-point field goals over the final 20 minutes.

The Hokies did have some standouts on the offensive end. Zabian Dowdell scored 17 points, and for the second game in a row looked as if he has found the rhythm on his jumpshot that he possessed last year. Dowdell was 7-of-9 from the field and hit both of his three-point attempts. He also had five assists and a steal.

Coleman Collins scored 16 points for the Hokies on 6-of-12 shooting. He was 4-of-5 from the free throw line. Collins and A.D. Vassallo went a combined 6-of-7 from the charity stripe. The rest of the team was just 6-of-16. Collins also had a team-high nine rebounds for Tech and blocked three shots.

Collins’ frontcourt teammate, Deron Washington, also enjoyed a good game. The sophomore from New Orleans scored 15 points, grabbed five rebounds and had a team-high four steals and four blocks. He did not commit a turnover. Jamon Gordon added 13 points and a team-high five assists for the Hokies.

The game was controlled by Clemson in the first half, and by the Hokies for most of the second half. The Tigers led by as many as eight points in first half, when Sam Perry’s two free throws made the score 13-5 at the 14:22 mark. Virginia Tech came back to tie the game on three different occasions in the first half.

The first was at the 3:52 mark when Chris Tucker nailed a three-pointer from the wing to make the score 28-28. Clemson immediately answered on the other end when Cliff Hammonds hit a jumper to make the score 30-28. Tech also tied the game at 33 at the 2:50 mark on a Deron Washington dunk, and Tech tied it again with 1:04 remaining on a layup by Winton Witherspoon. But both shots were answered by Clemson center Akin Akingbala, who finished the game with 21 points and 16 rebounds. The Tigers took a 37-35 lead into halftime.

The second half was mostly controlled by the Hokies, who led by as many as seven points. With 8:55 remaining in the game, Deron Washington hit a layup to make the score 64-63. That was the beginning of an 8-0 Virginia Tech run. The run was capped by a three-pointer from Wynton Witherspoon with 7:22 remaining. Witherspoon’s shot made the score 70-63.

But Clemson’s three-point shooting kept them in the game, even when nothing else went right for them. Cliff Hammonds answered Witherspoon’s shot with a three-pointer of his own to cut the lead to four, and then Zabian Dowdell hit a three to put the Hokies back up seven with 6:26 remaining. Clemson answered Dowdell with another three-pointer by Shawan Robinson. With 5:39 left in the game, the Hokies led 73-69.

Virginia Tech extended their lead to seven points one more time. With 3:50 remaining into the game, Zabian Dowdell drove down the lane and banked in a layup to make the score 79-72 Hokies. It looked like Tech had control of the game, but Clemson outscored VT 14-2 from that point on.

Virginia Tech’s offense went into a slow tempo mode after the Hokies got up by seven points, and Clemson took advantage. The Tigers went on a quick 8-0 run that put them up 80-79 at the 1:45 mark. The run began with a three-pointer by Shawan Robinson, and it ended with another three from Robinson. The Hokies regained the lead briefly when Jamon Gordon drove the lane, drew a foul and hit a layup. Tech led 81-80 with 1:19 remaining, but Gordon missed the free throw that would have put the Hokies up by two.

With Clemson leading 83-81, it appeared that the Hokies were going to have the last shot. But Vern Hamilton knocked the ball away from Zabian Dowdell with 11 seconds remaining. The officials ruled that the ball went out of bounds off Dowdell, and Clemson got the ball back. Seth Greenberg was enraged on the bench and was called for a technical foul. Instead of having a chance to foul one of Clemson’s poor free throw shooters and then get the ball back, Greenberg’s technical put the ACC’s best free throw shooter, Shawan Robinson (91.3%), at the line. Robinson made both free throws to make the score 85-81. Clemson then inbounded to Akingbala, who was fouled and hit one of two free throws with 10 seconds left to put Clemson up 86-81.

Virginia Tech returns to action on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Massachusetts to take on #12 Boston College. Tipoff is scheduled for noon and the game will be televised by Jefferson Pilot/Raycom.

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