Showing the patience and poise that allows coaches to sleep peacefully at night, second-ranked Virginia sank 32 of 42 free throws, 15 in the final 7 1/2 minutes, to turn back frustrated Clemson tonight, 74-59, at Littlejohn Coliseum.
After watching his team raise its Atlantic Coast Conference record to 6-0, its overall mark to 14-0 and a two-year unbeaten string to 19, the longest in Division I, Virginia Coach Terry Holland had nothing but praise for the tenacious defensive effort and good free throw shooting of his players in this physical game. Holland also had no complaints with Jeff Lamp's 25-point effort, 15 coming from 16 foul shots.
"We tried to do a lot of things defensively and we were successful," Holland said. "We tried to make Clemson take some tough shots. The balls were coming off a little long and we were having a tough time coming up with the rebounds. We decided to go with (Terry) Gates to get a little more meat in there."
Despite cold-shooting Clemson's good offensive rebounding in the second half, the Tigers were unable to hit the baskets they needed most, falling to 2-3 in the ACC, 13-4 overall. The Tigers grabbed nine more rebounds, 41-32, and had 25 more shots, but one fan summed up the night's offensive flop by saying, "Had I known we would have gotten stuck on 59, we could have caught the tail end of a movie, any movie."
A 15-footer by guard Vince Hamilton with 1:32 left pulled the Tigers to 63-59 and brought the crowd of 12,500 to its feet in anticipation of a last-second surge. It was not to be.
In those final 92 seconds, six Tigers missed a total of seven shots. And following the misses, they took turns fouling Virginia's rebounders. Gates sank three free throws, Ralph Sampson, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds, made two and Ricky Stokes, a reserve who had nine points and three rebounds, made one to push the once-shaky lead to a more comfortable 68-59 with one minute to play.
"It would have been nice to score in double figures," said Stokes, who played 27 minutes, mostly in place of foul-ridden point guard Othell Wilson. "Mostly, we played good defense and made our foul shots near the end."
The Tigers, who shot 41 percent tonight after a 29 percent second half in the 68-62 overtime loss to Maryland Saturday, were so befuddled by their inability to make a basket they almost stopped shooting.
Only at the insistence of Coach Bill Foster did his charges decide to try their luck, mostly without confidence or success. After Sampson's two free throws gave Virginia its nine-point lead, Clemson missed three shots, two by 6-foot-10 stalwarts Larry Nance and Horace Wyatt, who had been shooting so poorly lately he was relegated to reserve duty.
On the third try, Nance, who had eight points and 11 rebounds, was fouled and went to the line. To no one's great surprise, the senior missed both shots.
"There was nothing wrong with our effort," Foster said. "We just didn't shoot well. We don't like taking bad percentage shots, but I thought we played 33 to 34 minutes of good basketball."
Unfortunately, none of it was in the final minutes. After another miss, Jeff Jones made two free throws for a 70-59 lead with 40 seconds left and Clemson had lost its second straight at home.