Chasing the ACC title, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell believes his team can’t afford to start games off slowly. He might want to remind the Tigers of how much effort it took to come back in their last matchup with Virginia Tech.
The 12th-ranked Tigers hope to avoid their second sluggish start against the Hokies in a month as the conference rivals meet Wednesday night.
Clemson (22-4, 8-4) is 1 1/2 games behind first-place North Carolina in the ACC. The Tigers gained ground in the standings by beating Georgia Tech 81-73 on Sunday, a day after the Tar Heels lost in overtime to Maryland.
“We are in the stretch run, and they are sitting right there in front of us,” Purnell said. “We can see them plainly, but the bottom line is that you still have to take care of your business.”
It would help if Clemson could avoid sloppy first halves.
The Tigers had to overcome a 15-point deficit versus the Yellow Jackets, and were also down 15 against Virginia Tech (16-10, 6-6) before winning 86-82 on Jan. 29.
“I guess the positive thing is our guys don’t get rattled,” Purnell said. “I’ve seen five or six times when we got off to good starts, and I’d like to see that more often.”
The Hokies’ last meeting with the Tigers began a stretch of five losses in seven games, damaging their hopes for securing an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
Virginia Tech has lost three straight, but played tough in a 67-65 loss to Florida State on Saturday night. The Seminoles have since moved into the poll at No. 23.
That should provide added incentive for Clemson to avoid taking the Hokies lightly as it tries to secure consecutive winning seasons in ACC play for the second time in its history. The Tigers also finished above .500 in the league in the 1965-66 and 1966-67 seasons.
Barring a complete collapse, Clemson seems a lock to make the NCAA tournament for the second straight season after missing out the previous nine years. The Tigers are a combined 46-14 the last two seasons, and they’ve been particularly good in 2008-09 when Trevor Booker has a big game.
The junior forward had 21 points and 12 rebounds against Georgia Tech as Clemson improved to 9-0 this season when he posts a double-double. Booker had 21 points and 13 boards in the January matchup with Virginia Tech.
Booker leads the Tigers with 15.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a contest. He needs one block to become the 24th player in ACC history with 200 for their career.
Booker will match up with Jeff Allen, who has been a strong presence inside for the Hokies, averaging 14.4 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Allen had 13 points and nine rebounds against Clemson last month but committed five turnovers. He finished with 12 points and 11 boards versus Florida State.
Virginia Tech had an excellent chance to beat the Seminoles, running a play with 6 seconds remaining that left A.D. Vassallo wide open for a potential winning 3-pointer, but the sharp-shooting swingman’s attempt bounced off the back of the rim.
The Hokies have lost five games by two points or fewer.
“It’s bad,” Delaney said. “Another game we let slip away to help us get to our goal.”
Virginia Tech will be trying to beat Clemson for the first time in five games, a stretch that’s left the all-time series tied at 10.