After Clemson’s basketball game on Saturday against Virginia Tech, Senior guard Demontez Stitt revealed that before Coach Brad Brownell was hired, he “contemplated leaving.” But now with all the Tigers have accomplished this season, he’s sure glad he did not.
“It was a tough time,” Stitt said. “Especially with the coach leaving, not really notifying players. When players make the decision to come to schools, coaches are a big part of that. When things change, it’s hard to deal with change. But I talked to Coach, and I put all my trust in him and he put his trust in me.”
Stitt went on to say, “Coach Brownell made me comfortable with the new system he was going to put in and that he was big on senior leadership. It’s been a great year for me. I’m glad I stayed.”
And boy are Tiger fans glad he stayed as well.
Stitt poured in 15 points, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out five assists as he helped Clemson (20-10, 9-7) to a 69-60 victory on Senior Day over the visiting Hokies (19-10, 9-7). The win gave Clemson the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament, and the sixth straight season of at least 20 wins for the program.
Clemson came out of the gates on fire, playing like a team who wanted to get off of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and even though it was Senior Day, it was a sophomore who came up big early for the Tigers in the form of Devin Booker.
Booker scored nine points early in the game and helped Clemson jump out to a 17-6 lead.
The Hokies started the game in a 2-3 zone, and the Tigers responded by hitting three three-pointers to take the early lead. However, Virginia Tech responded and cut Clemson’s lead to 25-21 before Tanner Smith answered back with a dunk off of a baseline give and go with Jerai Grant.
A few possessions later, the Tigers made another big play when Stitt connected on an alley-oop with Bryan Narcisse, which really got the crowd into it. Then, when Zavier Anderson drew a charge on the very next Hokies possession, Littlejohn Coliseum became deafening.
The two teams traded baskets the rest of the half, and Clemson led 34-30 at the break.
The Tigers got the second half kicked off with a monster slam from the baseline that resulted in the posterization of Terrell Bell by Booker off a nice pass from Grant. Booker’s tomahawk jam brought back memories of his brother Trevor from years past.
Clemson went on a 20-11 run after the Booker dunk, and they stretched the lead to 59-44. The run was capped off by a dunk by Smith on a fast break, which brought the crowd to its feet.
Virginia Tech would not go quietly though, and they cut the Tiger lead down to seven at 61-54 after the Hokies star guard Malcolm Delaney hit two free throws, then stole the ensuing inbound pass and buried a three.
It was only fitting that the Clemson seniors would make some big plays to seal the deal on Senior Day, and they most certainly did following the Hokies spurt.
First came the senior Stitt, who went one-on-one with Delaney and took him to the rack for a lay in that would extend the lead back to nine.
Then it was the senior Grant’s turn. Virginia Tech’s Manny Atkins went in for a lay-up that would have trimmed the lead to five, but Grant had other plans. Grant said hold on young fella and came from the weakside for a monster block. Grant also came down with the rebound, and that all but sealed the Clemson victory.
Stitt and Grant were able to exit the game in the waning seconds to a standing ovation from the Clemson fans. The Tigers held on to win 69-60, and took a big step towards gaining an NCAA Tournament berth.
Grant finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks in his last home game. Booker chipped in 14 points, and Andre Young scored 11 points and had six assists while also connecting on three three-pointers.
Coach Brownell had this to say about the victory: “Certainly it was a great win for our guys. I’m happy for our seniors. Those guys are always special, but it’s challenging sometimes to battle your emotions and play well, especially with the added significance of it being for fourth place in the league and a chance to keep our NCAA hopes alive. I thought we played pretty well. Defensively, I thought we were outstanding. Offensively, we had some turnovers that bother you, but we did execute.”
Brownell also had a few thoughts on his team’s NCAA Tournament chances: “I certainly think we’ve played pretty doggone well here. I know that all the games in November and December count too, and those are some of the ones that are hurting us. We’re completely different now than we were. All those games where you evaluate yourself against other teams in other leagues, all that has been over for six or eight weeks, so it’s hard for your leagues to move or change. But we’re playing pretty well and we have a pretty competitive group.”
Clemson’s next game will be this Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. The Tigers will play the winner of the Boston College and Wake Forest game played on Thursday.
The Tigers’ game will begin at 2 p.m., and will be televised on ESPN2.
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