GREENVILLE – Jaron Blossomgame did all he could, but again, it wasn’t enough.
The Clemson junior forward’s sensational shot-making from all parts of the floor could not lift Clemson past fourth-ranked Virginia in the Cavaliers’ back-and-forth 64-57 victory Tuesday night at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Blossomgame is averaging 21.0 points in conference games, but the Tigers (16-13, 9-8 ACC) have squandered all three of his outbursts for at least 30 points this season. Blossomgame’s 31 points Tuesday went for naught, even though Clemson held multiple leads in the second half as late as with seven minutes to play.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m trying to do what I can every night for my team and give us the best opportunity to win,” Blossomgame said. “It is what it is. That’s how the game of basketball goes sometimes.”
After misfiring on his first four tries, Blossomgame was only off-target twice the rest of the night. He made 10 of 16 shots, including 4-of-6 from three, hit 7 of 9 free throws, and came out of halftime with a ridiculous reverse dunk to set the tempo for a thrilling second stanza.
Blossomgame outscored his teammates’ total for the first time. He accounted for 54.3 percent of his team’s points, the third-highest individual slice in school history.
Senior center Landry Nnoko was Blossomgame’s nearest sidekick, with eight points. Fellow starters Jordan Roper, Avry Holmes and Donte Grantham were a combined 2-for-17 from the floor and cobbled together six points.
“We just haven’t consistently had that second and third guy to score,” head coach Brad Brownell said. “Some games, that wears on us and we don’t get enough done.”
Virginia (23-6, 12-5), focusing on a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, scored the game’s first 12 points before the Tigers roared back to make the score see-saw through the middle part of the second half. Clemson opened 0-for-10, then made its next six shots and eight of nine.
“You know there’s going to be an ebb and a flow to the game,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “As good as we were, then all of a sudden we give up six buckets in a row on silly breakdowns. It changed that quick.”
Again, perimeter defense failed the Tigers; they’ve allowed nine or 10 3-point baskets in each of their past four losses.
Clemson fell seven points short of Virginia in both meetings this season, and is coming off close losses to Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech in February.
“We’ve won a few over Duke, Louisville and Miami. We can do it,” Brownell said of winning close games. “We obviously need to do it consistently so we can finish in the top four of the league. That’s one heck of a challenge. It hasn’t been done much at Clemson. But we’re closer.
“We aren’t great at any one thing. We’re pretty good at a lot of things. But eventually, something breaks down and we just aren’t not good enough to overcome that.”
There might not be enough space on the all-ACC first team for both Blossomgame and Virginia senior Malcolm Brogdon, but both teams’ leading scorers put on a show while spending most the game guarding one another. Brogdon did his best Stephen Curry impression as fans were still filing to their seats, pouring in 14 points going 4-for-4 beyond the arc in the game’s opening 10 minutes.
Brogdon finished with just 18, but clutch shots by guard London Perrantes (13 points, 3-8 3FG) and forward Anthony Gill (11 points) sent the Cavaliers to their first road victory since Feb. 6 at Pittsburgh.
“They out-executed us the first five minutes and the last five minutes of the game,” Blossomgame said. “That’s what gave them the game. We did some really good things against a really good team, and unfortunately we ended up losing.”
Clemson has lost three straight league games for the first time this year, totally nullifying any NCAA Tournament prayers – short of an ACC Tournament championship in Washington D.C. in two weekends. Home games or a high seed in the National Invitation Tournament are also in doubt.
The Tigers lost their final home game of the regular season for the fourth straight season. Clemson closes out its regular season Saturday with a road trip to Boston College (7-22, 0-16.)