CLEMSON, S.C. — Before Virginia Tech left Blacksburg for a five-hour bus ride to Clemson on Wednesday afternoon, Coach Seth Greenberg had every member of his team make 100 free throws. But as he recalled how good sophomore Cadarian Raines looked during those drills after the Hokies lost to the Tigers, 58-56, on Thursday night, Greenberg could only shake his head and “feel for him.”
With a chance to tie the contest with 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Raines missed one free throw off the back iron and the second intentionally after being fouled on a dunk attempt during Virginia Tech’s final possession of the evening, sealing the latest near miss in a season that has been chock-full of them.
The game-winning points came on two free throws by Clemson senior Tanner Smith (team-high 14 points) with 2 minutes 40 seconds remaining in the second half. The Hokies missed four shots and committed a costly turnover on their final four possessions of the night.
Virginia Tech (15-15, 4-11 ACC) has seen six straight games go to overtime or be decided by two points or fewer, and for the fourth time in five games it came out on the short end.
Thursday’s setback dropped Virginia Tech into a tie for second to last in the ACC standings, and it is in danger of finishing this disappointing season with a below .500 record. In their ninth season under Greenberg, the Hokies’ only sub .500 season came in 2005-06.
“It always hurts losing these close games like this. It’s just tough because we work so hard,” said sophomore Jarell Eddie, who finished with a team-high 15 points and scored Virginia Tech’s final field goal of the game with 3:40 left. “Every game we’re playing so hard, doing everything we can, and we just come up short.”
This one, like several others this year, can be blamed on a combination of untimely offensive droughts and careless turnovers. Virginia Tech had significant stretches in both halves in which it failed to produce offensively.
After jumping out to a 16-6 lead that quieted a boisterous senior night crowd of 8,735 at Littlejohn Coliseum, the Hokies went 6:45 without a field goal. Clemson (16-13, 8-7) soon took the lead with an 11-0 run in which all of its points came inside or at the free throw line.
In the second half, Virginia Tech went close to six minutes without a point after taking a three-point lead on a tremendous windmill dunk by Raines. The Tigers took advantage, going on a 14-3 run that put them ahead 49-41.
The Hokies fought back to tie the score twice after that, but it proved fruitless in the end.
“We had two stretches where we weren’t as good with the ball as we needed to be, and they capitalized on those two stretches,” Greenberg said.
And while the coach praised his players for their effort — “They obviously did a lot of good things to be in the game,” — he was unhappy with how careless his Hokies were with the ball. Virginia Tech committed 14 turnovers, including one with just more than a minute remaining in regulation, that Clemson converted into 22 points.
“The game came down to live-ball turnovers,” Greenberg lamented.
The Tigers also capitalized on the Hokies’ lack of depth inside. With senior Victor Davila out for a fifth straight game because of a groin injury, Clemson finished with 38 points in the paint and snagged 11 offensive rebounds.
But through all of that, Virginia Tech still found itself in position to pull out a road win in a hostile environment. Once again, though, the Hokies couldn’t get over the hump.
“We just have to not let the pressure get to us at the end,” Eddie said.