Clemson 78, Virginia 77
-- Clemson forward Olu Babalola made two free throws with 5.7 seconds to play today, and when Virginia guard Keith Jenifer's three-point attempt rimmed out as the horn sounded, the Cavaliers lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games away from University Hall, 78-77.
The Cavaliers (10-5, 1-3 ACC) lost despite shooting a season-best 59.2 percent from the field and on a day when guard Todd Billet made 7 of 11 three-point tries and scored 25 points. But Clemson (11-2, 1-2) shot 55.4 percent, and Virginia made only 9 of 16 free throws and turned over the ball five more times than the Tigers.
Ultimately, Coach Pete Gillen said, the result turned on a porous defense that Clemson consistently penetrated for layups or short jump shots.
"We didn't get stops when we needed to," Gillen said. "You've got to be able to guard people, and we didn't do that. We tried zone, we tried man-to-man. We just kept breaking down."
The defensive woes aside, the Cavaliers still nursed a 74-71 lead when Elton Brown scored on a short bank shot with 2 minutes 16 seconds to play. Clemson guard Edward Scott made the first of two free throws on the other end, but the Cavaliers allowed Tigers forward Tomas Nagys to rebound the miss on the second.
The Tigers reset their offense, and 23 seconds later, guard Chey Christie tied the score on a 12-foot jumper in the lane. On Virginia's subsequent possession, Travis Watson turned over the ball against a Clemson triple-team, and Christie followed with another short jumper in the lane to give the Tigers a 76-74 lead with 49 seconds remaining.
Gillen used his final timeout -- he had burned three of his allotted five in the first half attempting to correct defensive miscues -- and set up a play for Billet, who ran off a screen by Brown and made his final three-pointer with 33 seconds left.
Clemson Coach Larry Shyatt shunned a timeout -- "We didn't want them to be able to set their defense," he said -- and left Scott, a senior and three-year starter, on his own. With Jenifer in his face, Scott missed badly on a off-balance jumper. Watson had the rebound momentarily, then lost it to the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Babalola, who was fouled by Brown in traffic as he went up for a shot.
Watson, known throughout the league for his strong hands, said Babalola initiated enough contact to merit a foul.
"I had the ball in my hands, I got pushed and I lost it," Watson said. "It's hard to see a game end like that."
Once Babalola, a 67.7 percent free throw shooter, made both for a one-point Clemson lead, the Cavaliers had one last opportunity. But void of timeouts, the best they could muster was a lengthy jump shot from a player, Jenifer, whose strength is passing and who hadn't made a field goal all day.
"I didn't see anybody," Jenifer said. "I was open, and I took it."
Billet, to Jenifer's right and guarded by Babalola, didn't question Jenifer's judgment.
"It hit the front rim and then the back rim, and when a shot does that, you've just missed it," he said. "It was a good shot and it was right on line.
"The thing is, it shouldn't come down to that. We just didn't get the stops that we needed. When you're playing on the road in this conference, the margin for error is pretty small."
Today's game marked the first of three for Virginia in six days. The Cavaliers will take a break from the ACC to play at in-state rival Virginia Tech on Tuesday, then host Wake Forest on Thursday.