Demontez Stitt’s two clutch free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining and the 17 points by Terrence Oglesby lifted No. 24 Clemson to a 70-69 victory over Virginia Tech at a packed Littlejohn Coliseum Sunday afternoon to send Cliff Hammonds, James Mays and Sam Perry out as winners in their last home game.
It also means the Tigers enter this week’s ACC Tournament as the No. 3 seed with an overall record of 22-8 and a 10-6 mark in league play. Clemson will play at 9:30 p.m., Friday, against the winner between the No. 6 seed and Boston College.
The No. 3 seeding is the highest for a Tigers team since winning the regular season in 1990.
“This is a special day in our program,” Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. “This group of seniors has really put their stamp on this program. They’re a big reason all our younger players are here and they a big reason why I’m still here.
“It’s a special day for our program, a special day for me and a special day that I hope our seniors will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Thanks to Stitt, they probably will.
After Virginia Tech took a 69-68 lead with 9.0 seconds remaining, Clemson inbounded the ball and pushed it up court. It wound up in the hands of Stitt way out past the left wing near midcourt.
He drove to his left and straight to the hoop looking for a shot. But as he got close, the Hokies defense collapsed on him to block his path to the rim. However, A.D. Vassallo bumped into Stitt and was called for his fifth foul.
Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg was incensed with the call. He thought it wasn’t much of a foul and Vassallo said he never even touched Stitt.
“These two teams played extremely hard and it’s just a damn shame,” Greenberg said. “These two teams played too hard for it to come down to that. …
“It was an extremely physical game. With as much bumping and grinding as there was over 40 minutes in a clean way, you have to question some things.”
Some 30 seconds after the foul, Stitt, Clemson’s second best free throw shooter, walked to the line needing to make at least one to ensure overtime and two to put his team ahead.
It’s kind of ironic how the worst free throw shooting team in the ACC needed to make a pair to win the game.
“I just tried to think about the Mississippi State game when I made free throws down the stretch,” Stitt said. “I just tried to stay positive.”
Shaking his arms and legs trying to stay loose, Stitt, who finished with 12 points, walked up to the line and drilled the first free throw, never touching the rim. The second one was pretty much academic after that.
“When I hit that first free throw, that was my main focus so we can at least go into overtime,” he said. “When I hit that first one, it took a lot of pressure off for the second one.”
And just like the first attempt, Stitt’s free throw found nothing but net to get the Tigers the one-point lead with 3.8 seconds left.
“We might not be the best free throw shooting team by far, but we’re not going to give up,” said Mays, who also drained two crucial free throws with 1:31 left to play.
Virginia Tech (18-12, 9-7 ACC) had one last chance to win it, but a running 3-point attempt by Deron Washington never came close and the Tigers and the seniors got their big win.
The students rushed the court to help celebrate and moments later, Purnell got on the public address system to speak to the crowd and have the seniors, who were standing on top of the scorer’s table, address the fans, too.
“There were mixed emotions,” said Hammonds about talking to the crowd. “It was great that we got a win and are playing well going into the tournament, but also with it being my last game here in front of all these fans (was sad.).
“I’m going to miss this.”