Clemson realizes how important momentum can be heading into the March tournaments, which is why its struggles in February were so frustrating.
The No. 18 Tigers look to avoid losing three straight for the first time in more than two years Tuesday when they host Virginia in their final home game of the season.
After beginning February with a 27-point rout of then-No. 4 Duke, Clemson (22-6, 8-6 ACC) dropped four of its remaining seven games in the month, closing it with a 73-66 loss at then-No. 23 Florida State on Saturday. The Tigers committed a season-high 23 turnovers and leading scorer Trevor Booker— averaging a team-high 15.2 points—was held to eight as they fell out of contention for their first-ever ACC title and into a tie for fifth with Boston College.
Clemson, which was one loss behind conference-leader North Carolina in the loss column last week, has split its last 12 games after a 16-0 start.
“We’ve got to get back home and take care of business,” coach Oliver Purnell said.
With a victory in this game or their regular-season finale at No. 10 Wake Forest, the Tigers would have a winning record in ACC play in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1965-66 and 1966-67. The Tigers are 12-3 at Littlejohn Coliseum, and they haven’t dropped three in a row overall since a four-game slide Feb. 14-24, 2007.
That season, Clemson started a school-record 17-0, but went 2-5 in February and eventually finished eighth in the ACC before being relegated to the NIT. While an NCAA tournament bid seems all but certain, the Tigers still have a chance to get a bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tournament with victories in their last two games.
Virginia’s biggest win of the season was an 85-81 overtime upset of the Cavaliers on Feb. 15, but the Cavaliers (9-16, 3-11) have dropped three straight games—most recently a 70-60 loss to then-No. 13 Wake Forest on Saturday.
Calvin Baker scored 13 points and Mamadi Diane added 12 in 17 minutes off the bench. Virginia was without 7-foot freshman center Assane Sene, who injured his ankle earlier in the week, and outrebounded 42-28.
“I think rebounding is essentially an aggression statistic,” said Virginia coach Dave Leitao. “I think every man looks at the other man sometimes to grab a rebound, and obviously that is not the proper mindset.”
Sene, who has started 16 games and is averaging 5.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, was not listed as a starter in the Cavaliers’ official game notes.
If Virginia, which is 1-8 on the road, is to complete a season sweep, it will also need a better effort from leading scorer Sylven Landesberg, who was held to 10 points—more than seven below his season average—against the Demon Deacons. Landesberg scored 23 on 11-of-21 shooting against Clemson last month.
Virginia beat Clemson 64-63 on Jan. 28, 2007, in the last meeting at Littlejohn Coliseum.