Thursday in College Basketball: Clemson Shows Off Defense in Big ACC Win

Brett LissendenSenior Analyst IJanuary 30, 2009

After Wake Forest's defeat of Duke on Wednesday night, Virginia Tech and Clemson stood that much closer to leading the ACC.  Coming off of wins at Wake Forest and at Miami, Virginia Tech was presented another golden opportunity to announce their presence to the rest of the country.

The Hokies looked well on their way to a 5-1 start in the ACC with a 15-point second half lead over the Tigers, but Clemson used an 18-0 run to spoil Malcolm Delaney's 37-point performance and win a key ACC road game in Blacksburg.  Virginia Tech failed to score any points for nearly six minutes of game time.  After scoring 53 points in the first half, the Hokies managed only 29 in the second period.

The win was crucial for the Tigers, who looked to be on their way to another late-season collapse after a blowout loss to North Carolina a little over a week ago.  Clemson is still well within striking distance of the conference's big three powers: Duke, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.

So are the Hokies, as they both have the same conference record.  But the home loss while blowing a large lead hurts Virginia Tech's chances significantly at trying to stake claim to an ACC championship.

Defense Helps Gophers Too

The Big Ten conference featured a matchup of two ranked teams on Thursday night as No. 20-ranked Illinois traveled to No. 24-ranked Minnesota in a game of two of the more surprisingly successful teams in the conference.

The two teams appeared to be heading in opposite directions entering the game.  In its last three games, Minnesota lost at Northwestern, lost at home against Purdue, and barely pulled out a victory on the road against conference doormat Indiana.

On the other hand, Illinois had won four of its last five Big Ten games.  The lone blemish came at Michigan State, the conference's top dog, in a game where the Illini led most of the way.

On Thursday night, however, it was the Gophers who took charge.  Minnesota allowed a meager 36 points on 29.4 percent shooting from Illinois, on their way to posting a 23-point victory. 

The win moves Minnesota into third place in the Big Ten standings, behind Michigan State and Purdue.  The loss drops Illinois into a tie with Penn State for fourth in the conference.

Regaining Supremacy

For the first time in a long time, Gonzaga was considered by most to not be the best team in the West Coast Conference.  This was no more visible than in the top 25 rankings, where Saint Mary's stood at No. 18 and Gonzaga at No. 25. 

The two teams entered the night 5-0 in conference play, and it was Saint Mary's that looked well on their way to their first statement win of the season.  Leading 39-33 at halftime, the Gaels appeared to be in the process of dethroning the Zags from their conference pedestal.

But on their home floor, the Zags also relied on the theme of the night in the second half:  defense.  Saint Mary's only managed 23 points in the second half as Gonzaga was able to coast to a 69-62 victory and establish themselves alone in the top spot in the conference rankings.

The Bulldogs had four players scoring in double figures, easily enough to counter the 18 points from Saint Mary's standout Patrick Mills.

Upset of the Day

Considered by many to be the Pac-10 Conference favorite, No. 14-ranked Arizona State viewed Thursday night's home meeting with Washington State as an opportunity to create separation from the pack in the conference standing. 

The Sun Devils faltered in the second half, as the Cougars stepped up their defensive effort to outscore Arizona State 38-25 in the second half en route to a 65-55 victory. 

Aron Baynes (22) and Klay Thompson (28) each scored over 20 points for Washington State, who moved to 4-4 in conference play. 

The loss drops Arizona State to 5-3 in Pac 10 games.  This is now good for a tie for second place, after No. 16-ranked UCLA defeated California by a score of 81-66 also on Thursday.  UCLA moved to 6-2 in the conference, while California fell to 5-3.

Other Action

No. 9-ranked Michigan State earned their seventh win in Big Ten play by easily defeating Iowa on the road by a score of 71-56.  The win was the fifth straight on the road in conference games for the Spartans.

Arkansas, after posting impressive non-conference victories of Oklahoma and Texas, finally earned their first SEC victory of the season on Thursday night.  They defeated Alabama, in their first game without Mark Gottfried, by a score of 89-80 in Fayetteville.

Utah State earned their 20th win of the season by defeating their main competition in the WAC conference, Nevada, by a score of 72-61.  The Aggies are 8-0 in conference play and 20-1 overall.