CLEMSON — When it was all said and done, Aamir Simms was jumping up and down in the team huddle with a face-consuming grin while coach Brad Brownell was wrapping his arms around Elijah Thomas' 6-9 frame for a hug and thousands of fans behind the Clemson basketball team were celebrating.
It was a signature win in the truest of forms for Clemson's men's basketball team Saturday against No. 11 Virginia Tech at home, and with the 59-51 final lighting up the Littlejohn Coliseum scoreboard, the Tigers were emphatic in making a statement:
They know they're playing their best basketball of the season right now.
They know it couldn't have come at a better time.
"You either believe in each other and you believe in your coaches and you believe in what you're trying to do or you just give in," Brownell said. "And we just have really good guys ... they've just been terrific, and it doesn't surprise me now that with their backs against the wall in terms of basketball that they're going to fight."
The Tigers, thanks to a complete effort on both ends of the floor, have now won four straight ACC games in the country's most competitive conference as they continue to pad an NCAA Tournament resume that is only looking better as each week passes.
This is the type of basketball the Tigers planned on playing all along.
- Brownell prides himself on the defensive end, and he couldn't have been any more pleased than he was, particularly in the final eight minutes at Littlejohn Coliseum when the Tigers locked down on defense and stifled the Hokies' offense. Virginia Tech went on a scoring drought in crunch time that lasted longer than four minutes in the second half, and the Hokies went a full 8:12 in the closing minutes of the game without a field goal before they hit a 3-pointer in garbage time. Virginia Tech shot an abysmal 28.3 percent from the field, a credit to Clemson's tenacity. Brownell's reputation is one of a defensive coach, and Saturday it all came to fruition.
"Arguably, they're the hottest team in the league," Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said. "I think they're playing at a very high level. I know that maybe their record indicated that they started slow, but they also played some of the best teams in the country."
- It was only a few weeks ago when Brownell said he thought senior point guard Shelton Mitchell was due to hit four 3-pointers in a given contest, and Saturday, Mitchell raised him one more with a 5-of-9 shooting performance from beyond the arc and a 7-of-14 shooting day from the field for a game-high 22 points. The senior point guard, who has good days and bad days with his knee, has been coming into the gym every morning since the Tigers lost in heartbreaking fashion to N.C. State Jan. 26.
"You kind of get that feeling," Mitchell said of gaining momentum throughout the course of an afternoon. "Now, I feel like we've got our swagger back and we're in a good rhythm."
- Senior guard Marcquise Reed also dumped in 15 points, while senior center Elijah Thomas had seven blocks and nine rebounds.
- The Tigers outperformed the Hokies in myriad categories: they shot 41.3 percent from the field to Virginia Tech's 28.3, had 12 blocks to the Hokies' one and shot 39.3 percent from 3-point land to Virginia Tech's 26.3 percent.
- The Tigers had a little bit of a scare when both Thomas and Aamir Simms were each in foul trouble and on the bench with four personals with about eight minutes still left on the clock. At that point, it was still a seven-point game.
- Because the Tigers have played three games in a six-day span, Brownell thought his team looked tired at times.
Virginia Tech injury
The Hokies were playing without senior guard Justin Robinson, their second-leading scorer who averages 14.4 points per game. Robinson is out indefinitely with a foot injury that changes the dynamic of the lineup.
Clemson hits the road again Wednesday night to take on Miami.