And just like what happened to them in their last home game against N.C. State, that strategy burned them as Zabian Dowdell nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key to send it to overtime.
Once there, Clemson had five shots in the final minute to win it, but each one failed and the Hokies escaped with a 75-74 victory in overtime in front of a disappointing crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum Wednesday night.
In Clemson’s previous home game against N.C. State, nearly the exact same situation occurred as Cameron Bennerman drained a three-pointer from the right wing with 2.4 seconds left to send it to overtime, where the Tigers ultimately lost in double overtime.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said despite what has happened the last two home games, which is only the third time the Tigers (14-9, 3-7 ACC) have lost consecutive home games in overtime, he doesn’t plan on changing his philosophy at the end of games.
Purnell’s other option is to foul a player and send him to the free throw line, where he has to make the first one, miss the second, while at the same time still hitting the rim, have one of his teammates grab a rebound and then make a shot to either tie or win it.
“We’re definitely not looking to foul,” Purnell said. “We get up on the shoetops of the three-point shooter. It’s going to be very contested and we’re not going to foul. My philosophy is, and always has been, you can’t lose by playing it that way. The other way you can lose.
“You put him on the line, he makes the first and misses the second one on purpose, they tap it back, they make a three and you lose right there. There’s two schools of thought, always. It’s the same debate every time that happens one way or the other.”
When questioned further about the odds of the latter happening being much smaller, Purnell stuck to his guns.
“That’s your opinion,” he said. “Obviously there’s a large school of coaches that don’t feel that way. While I understand both sides of it. I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever lost a game like that. This year, I’ve lost two.”
Also just like against N.C. State, Clemson’s Cliff Hammonds had a chance to ice the victory with 12.1 left in regulation by making a free throw. However, he missed the first, before making the second to give the Tigers a three-point lead at 67-64, which set up the heroics of Dowdell, who finished with 19 points.
“We’ve lost games by not fouling,” Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “We’ve lost numerous games by not fouling. … There’s no right way. I’m not (ESPN commentator) Digger Phelps or whoever is the genius that can sit on television and never have to call timeout and never have to coach a game and never has to lose a game.
“There’s no perfect formula. (If the other happens and we win), then all of us say, ‘Why’d you foul?’ There’s no perfect formula. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s just the way it is. …
“I’ve lost more games by not fouling probably than anyone. A lot of things come into play when you foul. A lot of stuff happens. … We actually have to be held accountable for what happens.”
Oddly enough during the final seconds of regulation, one of the nation’s best free throw shooters in Shawan Robinson was sitting on the bench, while Hammonds, a 43.2 percent free throw shooter, was in the game.
Purnell said Robinson was on the bench for defensive reasons.
“I wasn’t wondering why I was on the bench,” Robinson said. “I know Coach Purnell’s thinking.”
There were other oddities such as Clemson making 13-of-15 free throws and shooting 48.1 percent from the field. However, the Tigers also had 25 turnovers, 21 of which were steals by Virginia Tech, which is a school record for the Hokies and the second most ever against a Clemson team.
Also, Virginia Tech point guard Jamon Gordon had 21 points to go along with his game-high 16 rebounds. Gordon is only 6-foot-3.
“That was just the Hokie gods smiling on these kids,” Greenberg said. “We’re just fortunate to win.”
In overtime, Virginia Tech (13-10, 3-7 ACC) scored its final basket after it got the offensive rebound following a pair of missed free throws with 56.2 seconds remaining.
The poor fortune for Hammonds continued, where he missed a three-pointer from the left wing with roughly 30 seconds remaining. He also missed a semi-open running layup from the right side with less than five seconds left that could have won the game.
He also committed five turnovers, while his backcourt teammate Vernon Hamilton committed six.
“I’m alright,” Hammonds said. “I’ve just got to keep working. I know they have full confidence in me. I know they’re behind me 100 percent. It’s not anything I need to worry about. It’s just something that I need to keep working one and produce for the team, which I’m not doing right now.”
Hamilton also missed a wide-open jump shot from the corner with about 10 seconds left. Those final plays were set up due to Virginia Tech missing its last six free throws. Nonetheless, the Tigers still couldn’t manage to take advantage of it.
Following the interviews, a dejected Hammonds stood in the tunnel all by himself, leaning against a wall with his head down. Purnell approached him, put his arm around him and offered some positive reinforcement.
Moments later, Hamilton also put his arm around Hammonds as the two exited the building.
“We win together and we lose together,” said Robinson, who had a team-high 17 points. “It brings us closer together. We’re just sitting here lurking and waiting, so beware.”