Hokies Head Down to Clemson and Knock Off the Tigers 82-81

The Hokies notched their first ACC road win of the season behind a big second half from Seth Allen.

[Mark Umansky]

The Virginia Tech Hokies hit the road for the first time in two weeks to face the Clemson Tigers on Sunday night in newly-renovated Littlejohn Coliseum. After being beaten quite handily in their first two ACC road contests, the Hokies were able to withstand an aerial assault to knock off the Tigers 82-81. With the win, the Hokies improved to 15-4 on the season (4-3 ACC), and earned what currently stands as their third RPI Top-50 win this season.

Despite their surprisingly impressive tournament resume, the Tigers entered Sunday night's game winless in 2017. Clemson's standout forward Jaron Blossomgame, who averages just over 18 points per game, reportedly missed practice in the days leading up to Sunday with a sprained thumb on his shooting hand, but took part in shootaround and was in the starting lineup to face the Hokies.

Whether it was his thumb or a new-found focus from Buzz's bunch, the Hokies kept Blossomgame in check early and avoided yet another slow start against a conference foe.

Tech took advantage of their quickness on the perimeter, using their usual brand of swift ball movement and fluidity to create open looks inside and outside. Seth Allen and Khadim Sy teamed up immediately in the pick-and-roll game, resulting in an easy layup for Sy and then a beautiful skip pass to a wide open Ty Outlaw, who canned a corner three. Justin Robinson was able to penetrate the lane early, resulting in a layup and some good looks for his teammates.

And then there was Zach LeDay. The senior forward had a fantastic first half, displaying his full repertoire of moves against a helpless Sidy Djitte. LeDay reeled off 7 straight points for the Hokies, using some slick post moves against a much bigger opponent.

If there's one thing we've learned during LeDay's time in Blacksburg, it's that his quick first step and willingness to initiate contact with taller foes allow him to create valuable space inside. He combines that with a sneaky perimeter ball fake that is even more effective once he shows his ability to hit a three (which he soon did midway through the first half).

LeDay abused Clemson defenders throughout the first half. Whether it was from the perimeter or the post, he was dangerous every time he squared up. Suddenly, the Tigers began respecting him all over the floor.

But for all of the success the Hokies found on the offensive end, they struggled mightily to contain the Tigers shooters. The Hokies initially set up in a 2-3 zone, but poor rotations and good ball movement from the Tigers led to a lot of easy three-pointers. In an attempt to confuse the Clemson offense, Buzz then began mixing up their defensive looks. The Hokies' 3-2 set struggled to defend the baseline, giving way to a 1-3-1 set that proved similarly ineffective.

The Hokies entered Sunday's game allowing conference opponents to shoot 43% from three-point range, and the Tigers clearly took advantage of the opportunity. Clemson shot 7-13 from distance in the opening period, including a dagger with 4 seconds left in the half to cut the Tech lead at the break to 41-40. To put the Tigers' perimeter game in perspective, they averaged 7.7 made three-pointers per game entering play on Sunday.

The Hokies held Blossomgame to only 4 first half points, but allowed teammates Avry Holmes (12 points) and Donte Grantham (10 points) too many easy looks.

On the flip side, with so many Tigers camped out on the perimeter, the Hokies did a solid job rebounding out of the zone and went into the locker room holding a 17-13 advantage on the boards.

Clearly troubled by the Clemson aerial attack, Buzz had the Hokies in man-to-man to start the second half. And almost immediately, the Hokies struggled on the boards. Clemson pulled down offensive rebounds on their first three possessions, leading to easy put-back layups and three-pointers. By the Under 16 media timeout, the Tigers had already logged 5 offensive rebounds and 7 second-chance points.

There was a palpable shift in energy within Littlejohn Coliseum, and the Tigers barrage had the potential to demoralize the visitors. But the Hokies hung tough, thanks in part to another big performance from Seth Allen.

Sensing the coming Tigers run, Allen put the Hokies on his back the same way Chris Clarke had in recent games. He reeled off 8 straight Hokies points, including two three-pointers, midway through the second half. Allen used his usual bag of tricks along the perimeter to get an easy layup and went back to the pick-and-roll with Sy, only to step back and can an open three.

Both teams traded blows down the stretch; the Hokies would convert an And-1, only to watch the Tigers drop another three on the ensuing possession. It became a back-and-forth game full of periods of open play followed by spans of general ineptitude. The Tigers led by as many as 2 points, before the Hokies went on an 8-0 with just under 8 minutes to play.

Blossomgame got going in the second half, suddenly giving the Tigers a dangerous three-headed monster that Tech struggled to contain. His layup with 4:42 remaining cut the Hokies lead to 1, but that was the closest the Tigers would come.

Tech held Clemson scoreless for the next 3:50, before Blossomgame cut the Hokies lead back down to 2. Coming out of the timeout, Seth Allen hit a huge three-pointer to put the Hokies up 5. The Hokies then went 6-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 21 seconds and escaped Clemson with their first ACC road win this season.

Blossomgame and Holmes led all scorers with 20 points apiece, and Grantham chipped in 15 for the Tigers.

Allen led the Hokies with 17 points and 6 assists. LeDay finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds, and Ahmed Hill added 11 points. The Hokies shot 60.9% from the field in the second half and finished the game 16-17 from the free throw line, including 9-9 in the second half.

Overall, it felt like a good "team win." Buzz got solid contributions from guys like Khadim Sy (5 points, 3 boards) and Ty Outlaw (8 points, 4 boards), in addition to his usual suspects. Chris Clarke (8 points, 6 boards) did not make his usual impact, but he was effective enough while Allen put the team on his back to keep the offense going when Clemson was busy breaking down the Tech defense.

Most importantly, the Hokies shot well from the free throw line. Arguably the most frustrating aspect of the Hokies play this season has been their inconsistency from the charity stripe. On Sunday, their flawless shooting from the line in the final seconds helped close out the Tigers on the road.

Back over .500 in the conference, the Hokies hit the road again on Thursday night when they travel to Chapel Hill to face the #9 North Carolina Tar Heels (18-3, 6-1 ACC). Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.

A Few Odds and Ends

OUTLAW EFFECTIVE IN LIMITED MINUTES: Making his second start this week for the Hokies, Ty Outlaw had a solid game against the Tigers. He went 2-2 from behind the arc and looked significantly more confident than we've seen him in recent weeks. Ty finished with 8 points and 4 rebounds in only 12 minutes of play, serving as an effective weapon early in each half. As I mentioned in last week's Matrix 3.1, Tech's ability to withstand foul trouble and/or poor shooting nights from key players like Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs will dictate how far they can go. Performances from Outlaw that mirror Sunday night's could be the difference between a deep ACC Tournament run and an opening game exit.

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLES: Let's call a spade a spade: Tech's perimeter defense was horrendous on Sunday night. They struggled all evening with their rotations and close outs, spending more time chasing the ball than contesting shots. Sure, the Tigers made a bunch of tough jumpers — including Blossomgame's late three with both of LeDay's hands in his face — but their inability to contain a relatively boorish Clemson offense was troubling.

Earlier in the week, we raved about the Hokies' defensive efforts against Georgia Tech. Against a slightly better offense in Clemson — the Tigers rank 13th in the ACC in field goal percentage (45%) and 14th in three-point percentage (35.4%), while the Bees rank 15th and 13th, respectively — the Hokies allowed 48% shooting from inside and behind the arc thanks to far too many easy looks.

With road games at UNC, Louisville, Virginia and Miami remaining, the Hokies will need to find ways to contain more adept offenses on a nightly basis. Otherwise, a promising season could quickly turn disastrous.

Comments

How bad will the NC STATE loss hurt us come tournament time? I don't really understand the basketball ranking system. Was that a bad loss that will impact our tournament chances? Or does it all depend on how things go from here?

Edit: Thanks for the write up. I always enjoy reading about our hoops team.

Not that big of a deal, NCSU has a strong RPI and it was on the road. The margin isn't really a factor.

We don't have a bad loss. Road loses to NCSU and FSU don't hurt us. A home loss against a team as good as ND isn't that big of a deal. aTm is a middling team, but it was on a neutral court.

That's why the projection systems have us well inside the bubble. Palm had us a 6 seed last week. The Bracket Matrix brings all the projections together and had us an 8 seed last night.

We need to get to 20 wins or so, and besides two games against BC, there aren't a lot of RPI-no-help wins to be had. If we are a tourney team, we will get to 20+ wins. If we get to 20+ wins, our metrics will be fine. If we finish with 18 wins or so (we have 15 right now), then we don't deserve to get in.

But watch the schedule, it's tough until mid February but ends with 4 winnable games. Some fans are going to freak out if we are 6-8 in the ACC in mid-Feb.

You do realize that BC has been better in ACC play than Clemson, right? I don't think there are an easy wins left in our schedule. We just need to play as well as we can.

I agree that if we make 20 wins, we should have a good enough resume to go dancing.

But look at who each team has played. Yes, Clemson lost to GT, but every other loss was to a ranked team. Clemson aren't world beaters, but BC isn't above .500.

Yup, BC is the only team less than 500 in the ACC overall. But my point was that we have to come out to play every game. We still have a tendency to play down to our competition or start slow. There are no gimmy teams in the ACC this year.

Our defense really needs to tighten up or we could have some bad games left.

Sure, I'm looking at it from an RPI perspective. BC is in the 170s, Clemson is in the 40's. BC may not be an easy win, but from an RPI perspective, they won't be much help (and may actually draw our RPI down a touch).

Thanks for the info. I wasn't going to freak out regardless. I don't know enough about how it works to freak out. My freak out is limited to football season and selection Sunday when we don't get in. Glad to learn that if we continue on the current trajectory we'll probably be good to go.

It feels like a 9-9 ACC record puts us over the top of the bubble, meaning we have to protect home court. We're on track now (swapping ND home loss with Clemson road win).

All the remaining home games are against teams we could / should beat, with the exception maybe Miami and uva. If we can split with the cavs and / or steal a road game against BC or Pitt, I think we'll be okay heading into the ACC tourny.

If we can sweep the cavs I'm not sure I'd even mind if we were NIT bound. I mean, I'd definitely complain about it, but the consolation prize of beating LOLUVa's prize squad twice in one season would totally make up for it.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

NCAA Tourney > Beating UVa

RealTimeRPI.com has NC State's RPI at 79 currently, so it's not like we lost to a scrub. And while they list us as a good win for the Wolfpack, they don't list them as a bad loss for us.

There usually has to be extenuating circumstances for an ACC road loss to really hurt your chances with the selection committee.

"I mean, you know, fuck them, but good for them." -Too Druck to Funk

NC State was a road loss against a team that currently sits 72nd in the RPI. Right now, the A&M loss (#90 at a neutral site) looks worse.

The best comparison I can do is with other top 50 ACC schools.

We are currently 37th
Behind us:
Clemson #50 has a loss to #103 Oklahoma and at #89 Georgia Tech
Pittsburgh #38 has an atrocious home loss to #209 Duquesne and a Road loss to #119 Syracuse

Ahead of us
#22 Wake Forest has its worst loss at home vs #50 Clemson

None of the top 6 in RPI are likely going to miss the tournament, in my opinion.

Our resume looks better than Pitt and Clemson, right now.

I would be willing to put us even with Wake right now for 7th best, primarily because they haven't beaten anybody above 64th (0-7) whereas we have 3 top 50 wins (3-2 Overall)

Seth Allen kind of looks like Jack Sparrow

Glad to get the W. I missed the first half, but one thing that stood out, again...this game was much closer than it should have been. So many careless, avoidable turnovers.

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

Great analysis of the change in defensive strategy and how it played into the rebounding game early in the second half.

Some of the Clemson three point shooting you have to tip your hat to them as they were hitting from NBA range, well out past the arc but the second half shots were more conventional and the Hokies still struggled to close out.

Was really excited to see Sy and Leday on the floor together for the 20 seconds it lasted. Really wish Sy had avoided that foul so we could have seen some meaningful trips back and forth to see if that combination works well together.

Was hoping for that classic Clarke run at the end there to really put the game away but I guess you cant get one of those every night.

I was sort of surprised Clemson hung in so tight.

They were sure hitting the threes.

I'm very glad VT was hitting their free throws, because this game was a lot closer than I thought it would be, and like I said, it seemed like Clemson was hitting threes at will.

Don't understand the extensive use of zone when we were getting torched from 3. Maybe as prep for a big UNC team? Still you have to win THIS game. We got after them pretty good playing man later in the 2nd. They don't have a true point either, so it seems good ball pressure would create some TO's and run outs. Would live to hear Buzz's reasoning on the zone.

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

I think Buzz is using a variety of zones to mitigate having a short bench. Playing zones can help save guys legs. I also think that as was pointed out above that Buzz couldn't have anticipated this three point barrage from the Tigers since they usually shoot half that.

Sure, preserve legs but it was frustrating to see the continued zone with them red hot from 3. But Buzz knows his team better than me and maybe didn't think they had the legs to play good man.

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

You put those words together, those are my favorite words, Popeyes and bahama
- Mike Burnup

Buzz mentions Bubba a bunch. Who is he?

Bubba is the nickname of Buzz's son Calvin.

Hokies got back in the vote column this week with seven votes in the AP Poll. Puts us roughly at #31 in the AP Poll.

Other ACC Teams:
Florida State at #6
UNC #9
UVA #12
Louisville #13
Notre Dame #14
Duke #17

How is Duke ranked? They don't own a single road win all season......

"Welcome to the terror dome!"

Blue Blood and 15-4 overall. How is Xavier still ranked when they have lost three in a row before beating a lowly Georgetown team?

Somebody is going to have to explain to me how Duke is 14 and we are 37 in RPI ?!?!?!?! Duke has 3 top 50 wins and we have 3. They havnt won a road game and we have 2-top100 road wins....neither has a bad loss.

"Welcome to the terror dome!"

Duke

There's your answer.

Actually, RPI is a calculation. Detailed information from Wikipedia.

RPI = (WP * 0.25) + (OWP * 0.50) + (OOWP * 0.25)

where WP is Winning Percentage, OWP is Opponents' Winning Percentage and OOWP is Opponents' Opponents' Winning Percentage. Winning Percentage (but not OPW and OOPW) is also weighted so that a home win only counts as 0.6 win, road wins count 1.4 wins, home losses count as 1.4 losses and road losses only count 0.6 loss. Neutral site games are 1 win or 1 loss.

Also:

* OWP removes all of our opponents' games against the Hokies from the equation, so we aren't penalized for beating Georgia Tech and aren't helped by losing to Notre Dame
* OOWP includes those team's games against you, so when Notre Dame and Duke finally play Notre Dame will be hurt slightly for beating us

I could give an example, but it gets a little math hammery and very much TL;DR

Edit: Whoops. Meant to reply to someone else's post and didn't catch that I didn't do that until after I hit submit *blush*

So, it doesn't matter who you lost to, just that you have a certain number of losses against an aggregate winning percentage of opponents and opponents' opponents?

I think this helps to explain why our RPI would drop after beating a bad team (because we lost to good teams before that)

I don't think I like this ranking anymore... what am I missing?

You're pretty much right, including that it's a pretty awful way to rank teams. The calculation is way too simple, penalizes teams for beating significantly worse teams, and rewards teams for losing to significantly better teams.

There's a reason the Selection Committee announced that they're speaking with a number of computer rankings experts about developing a new ranking system to help them pick the tournament teams.

This is one of the main reasons I prefer Kenpom. It seems to take the right things into account instead of some of the other ranking systems.

I love kenpom but will say I think he should filter out a bit for garbage time which I don't think he does right now. Big reason WVU is 4 right now

Nothing, its a garbage rating system

NC State loss looks better now. They took down Duke at home

Would rather the Duke win look more important. Duke just got their 4th ACC loss and it would have been their 5th, except Capel put the bench in against Miami and they led a miraculous 20+ point comeback against the Hurricanes.

I get that. Michigan also keeps losing and devaluing that win. The good thing about the ACC is that we still have plenty of chances for more quality and even statement wins.

Add Texas A&M to that list as well.

The only caveat with that approach is our OOC SOS is butts. According to realtimerpi.com, our OOC RPI is #63 and our OOC SOS is #264 (#290, according to ESPN). Fair or unfair, those types of numbers catch the eye of the selection committee. And seemingly good wins and losses against P5 teams — Texas A&M, Michigan and Nebraska — don't look as good as they once did (sans Ole Miss).