#24 Clemson Narrowly Beats Tech in Battle for Third Place

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Two Demontez Stitt free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining propelled #24 Clemson to a 70-69 win over Virginia Tech, putting a serious hurt on the Hokies’ NCAA tournament chances. Clemson improved to 22-8 overall and 10-6 in the ACC with the win, while Tech fell to 18-12 overall and 9-7 in the ACC. The Hokies are the #4 seed in the ACC tournament. Tech will get a first round bye in the tournament and will play in the quarterfinals on Friday at 2pm.

The loss spoiled great efforts from several Tech players. A.D. Vassallo scored 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range. He also had seven rebounds and a team-high five assists in 39 minutes of action.

Deron Washington added 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals. His tip-in with approximately nine seconds remaining in the game gave the Hokies a temporary 69-68 lead, until Clemson’s final possession.

Two freshmen also performed well for Tech. Jeff Allen had 11 points and 12 rebounds, recording a double-double. He also had four blocks and two steals. Dorenzo Hudson came off the bench to score nine points and grab three rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time.

Thanks to Washington, Vassallo and Allen, the Hokies held a huge 46-31 edge in rebounding. Clemson was averaging over 16 offensive rebounds per game, but had just nine against Tech. Meanwhile, the Hokies pulled down 14 offensive boards.

Despite those stats, the Tigers were able to come away with the win for a couple of reasons. First, there were the turnovers. Clemson employs a tough full-court press. The Hokies did a good job against it at times and got some easy baskets, but they handled it poorly at other times, especially late in the game. Tech turned the ball over 20 times.

Another fact that can’t be overlooked is foul trouble. Jeff Allen played just 11 minutes in the first half, and Washington just nine, because they picked up 2 fouls. VT was up for some of the first half, but when those two left the game, Clemson went on a big run and took a 7-point halftime lead.

At halftime, Washington had just 3 points and 2 rebounds, while Allen had 4
points and 4 rebounds. In the second half, Washington had 12 points and six rebounds, while Allen had 7 points and 8 rebounds. Both players were on the bench during a critical stretch of the first half when the Tigers went on a big run.

Neither team played particularly well offensively in the early going. Clemson got out to an 8-3 lead, but not until the 13:57 mark of the first half. At that point though, the Hokies got rolling. Dorenzo Hudson hit a jumper in the lane, and Jeff Allen followed that up with a layup to cut the lead to one with 12:46 left in the half.

From the 13:10 mark to the 9:51 mark, the Hokies ran off 14 points, in just a little over three minutes. That put them on top 17-13, with a Lewis Witcher free throw completing the short offensive burst.

Two key plays happened within one minute of each other. At the 9:02 mark, Deron Washington picked up his second foul, and with 8:08 left in the half, Jeff Allen picked up his second as well. At the time of Allen’s foul, the Hokies were up 17-15. From that point, they were outscored 22-13 for the remainder of the half.

Three-point specialist Terrence Oglesby gave Clemson the burst they needed down the stretch of the first half. He nailed four three-pointers between the 6:25 mark and the 2:57 mark. His last three-pointer of the half gave the Tigers a 37-27 lead. However, Tech was able to hold the Tigers to just three points the rest of the half, and went into halftime trailing 40-33.

Clemson quickly extended their lead to 45-35 over the first minute of the second half, but the Hokies kept fighting and gradually got it down to a workable margin. By the 15:40 mark, the lead was down to 49-45 following a three-pointer from A.D. Vassallo. The teams went scoreless for over two minutes, but a Dorenzo Hudson layup made it 49-47 Clemson with 13:12 left in the game.

The Tigers briefly extended their lead to 54-47, but the Hokies were right back at it, responding with an 11-0 run. Another three-pointer by Vassallo gave Tech a 56-54 lead with 9:13 remaining, and Deron Washington hit two free throws to extend that lead to 58-54 with 8:59 left in the game.

The Hokies held the lead for the next seven minutes. When a Deron Washington dunk with 2:54 remaining put Tech up by five, things looked very good. However, a driving layup by Demontez Stitt on the next possession made the score 65-62 Hokies, and then Tech began breaking down in the face of Clemson’s press defense.

The full-court press and traps that Clemson like to run can’t be employed unless the other team is inbounding the ball, and Stitt’s layup gave them that chance. First Hank Thorns had a turnover, and although James Mays missed an easy layup on the other end, K.C. Rivers was there for the putback. That cut the lead to one point, 65-64, with 2:07 left in the game.

The Hokies inbounded, and A.D. Vassallo quickly found himself trapped in the backcourt. Vassallo had the ball stripped from him, and James Mays got a breakaway dunk, giving Clemson a 66-65 lead.

K.C. Rivers was given a technical foul for taunting after the dunk by Mays, and that sent A.D. Vassallo to the line for two free throws. That’s when the Hokies starting melting down in another key phase of the game. The normally reliable Vassallo hit just one of two shots. That tied the game at 66, but Tech had missed a chance to get the lead back.

Because of the technical, the Hokies got the ball back after the free throw attempts. They got the ball on the inside to Jeff Allen, who was fouled. Allen went to the line for two free throws, and missed both of them with 1:32 remaining.

On the scramble for the rebound, A.D. Vassallo was called for a questionable foul on James Mays, which sent the Clemson senior to the line for two free throws. Mays, normally a 51% free throw shooter, nailed both.

On the other end, Deron Washington went to the basket and was fouled. He missed the first free throw. At that point the Hokies had missed four of their last five free throws, including three in a row. They started the game 11-of-14. Washington did nail the second attempt to make it 68-67, Clemson, with 40 seconds left.

Washington made up for his miss. On Clemson’s next possession, he knocked the ball free from Demontez Stitt and it bounced into the arms of Jeff Allen. The Hokies called a timeout to set up a game-winning shot with 15 seconds left.

A.D. Vassallo’s runner in the lane out of the timeout missed, but Deron Washington was there for the tip-in with nine seconds remaining. That gave the Hokies a 69-68 lead.

Clemson took the ball and charged up court, with Stitt driving towards the basket, just outside the lane. Before Stitt could attempt a shot or pass off to one of his teammates, Vassallo reached across his body and was called for the reach in foul, committing a cardinal sin in basketball: don’t foul the opposing team’s second best free throw shooter with 3.8 seconds remaining when you are up by one, and he isn’t in the act of shooting.

The Hokies were over their 10-foul limit, so two free throws were coming up. Stitt, a 78.3% free throw shooter on the season, stepped to the line and calmly nailed both shots. That gave Clemson a 70-69 lead with 3.8 seconds remaining.

The Hokies had no timeouts remaining, and Deron Washington was able to push the ball up to the three-point line, but his leaning jumper was off, giving the Tigers a dramatic one-point win on their Senior Day.

The six meetings between Clemson and Virginia Tech since ACC expansion have all been decided in the last 15 seconds, by five points or less. Three games have been decided by one point, and two by two points.

Virginia Tech will be the #4 seed in the ACC tournament. They will face either Maryland, Miami or NC State on Friday at 2pm. If Maryland defeats Virginia tonight, the Terps will play NC State in the #5/#12 game. If Maryland loses to the Hoos, then Miami will be the #5 seed.

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