Rivers Puts Clemson Back on the Bubble

K.C. Rivers

All the aspects that have been missing over the last month for the Clemson basketball team came to fruition in the season finale at Virginia Tech. And as a result, look who is firmly back into serious NCAA Tournament discussion.

The Tigers got help from the officials with a timekeeper mess up; they were perfect from the field in the closing minutes of the game; there was no major scoring drought and K.C. Rivers looked like he did over the first 18 games of the season.

It all adds up to an improbable 75-74 Clemson victory over No. 21 Virginia Tech Sunday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. It also puts the Tigers in the middle of NCAA Tournament talk.

Clemson is 21-9 overall and finishes the regular season 7-9 in league play. The Tigers also have six wins over teams with an RPI ranking of 50 or better, which is more than several teams ranked in the AP polls.

Clemson also has a solid RPI and many NCAA Tournament experts believe a win over Florida State in the first round of the ACC Tournament Thursday at noon in Tampa, all but guarantees the Tigers an at-large bid.

"Look at all the different momentum swings in the league," Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. "We're hoping that momentum is back with us. I think our mindset is in a really good spot right now. Hopefully this momentum will carry over into the ACC tournament."

But just to get to this point is nothing short of spectacular.

Clemson was 2-9 over its last 11 games before beating Miami in overtime and then going on the road to Virginia Tech, which was playing for the ACC regular season title on senior day.

However, Rivers, Cliff Hammonds and James Mays didn't let that get to them as they carried the Tigers to the improbable win.

Rivers scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range. Hammonds scored 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range. Mays scored all 11 of his points in the second half on 4-of-4 shooting.

As a team, the Tigers shot 50.9 percent from the field and were 10-of-19 from beyond the arc.

"I'm awfully proud of our team for coming out and grabbing the game by the throat in the first half and withstanding their runs," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Our guys really stepped up big and made play after play after play."

The three big plays of the game for the Tigers came when Hammonds drilled a 22-foot shot as the shot clock was winding down; Rivers banged home a 3-pointer out of a called timeout that gave life to Clemson in the final minutes and the offensive rebound by guard Vernon Hamilton off a missed free throw in the final 15 seconds.

The last one of those could have been another Duke-like scenario, but for once, the officials got it right and things worked in Clemson's favor.

Hamilton got the rebound off a missed free throw and as he was trying to get out of the middle of the lane, he got tripped and fell to the floor. However, no traveling violation was called because he never had complete control of the ball when he went down.

After gaining possession of the ball while sitting down, Hamilton passed it to Rivers, upon which the clock stopped briefly, even though there was no whistle. It restarted again and by the time the Hokies fouled Hammonds to stop the clock, there were 3.7 second showing.

But after spending a few minutes reviewing the situation, the officials put 1.7 seconds on the clock, which was the right call.

"Our assistants did a great job of noticing the clock," Purnell said. "I don't know how they could have stopped it without a signal from an official. Don't get me started."

It's a good thing the clock situation was resolved because Hammonds missed both free throws, which was an all too familiar theme for Clemson throughout the game. The Tigers were 9-of-19 from the line and are on pace to become the worst free throw shooting team in ACC history.

The Hokies had 1.5 seconds to try and win the game, but they never got a shot off and Clemson escaped with its first road win over a ranked team in the ACC since 1997. Also, the Tigers are now 2-70 in the last 20 years on the road against league teams with a winning conference record.

"During that streak when we weren't playing well, we'd miss a shot and hang our head," Purnell said. "That certainly wasn't the case today."

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