CLEMSON, S.C. – By the time Malcolm Delaney hit the bench Saturday after fouling out with 31 seconds left in Virginia Tech's 69-60 loss at Clemson, he'd already checked out mentally from the game. He had a lot of thinking to do prior to what will be the most important week of his college career.
As Clemson's seniors celebrated with fans in Littlejohn Coliseum, Delaney made his way off the court, staring at the floor most of the way to the locker room. He was already pondering the "new season," his term for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and what he hopes waits beyond it for Tech.
NCAA tournament selection committee provide Tech's seniors an invitation to the party for the first time in their careers. The Hokies enter the tournament with a two-game losing streak.
"We've got a good opportunity ahead of us," said Delaney, trying to stay optimistic after leading all scorers with 19 points in the loss. "We've just got to win games. We control our own destiny. We can't worry about what people are talking about right now.
"If we want to get into the NCAA tournament, we can get there. It's still right there. We've got to win games."
Tech, which shot a season-low 31 percent from the floor against Clemson (20-10, 9-7), will head into the ACC tournament as either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed. It was Tech's lowest shooting percentage since it made just 30 percent Nov. 27, 2009 in a 61-50 loss to Temple.
If Boston College loses Sunday to Wake Forest, Tech will be the No. 5 seed and will play Thursday at 2 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. against the No. 12 seed Demon Deacons. If BC defeats Wake Forest, Tech will earn the No. 6 seed and will play Thursday at 9 p.m. against No. 11 seed Georgia Tech.
"To say, 'Well, you're not in the tournament', well, if you don't win your opening round of the ACC, you're in the (National Invitation Tournament)," said Tech coach Seth Greenberg, whose team shot 24 percent in the second half. "There's no doubt about it. If you win your opening game in the ACC, I think you're definitely still under discussion, because no one has really separated themselves as people are trying to get into the (NCAA) tournament."
Clemson shot 49 percent from the floor, becoming the second ACC team to shoot at least 49 percent this season against Tech (Maryland shot 49.2 percent). The Tigers built a 24-9 lead while the Hokies, who got 10 points and 11 rebounds from Terrell Bell, struggled just to keep possession.
Tech committed 14 first half turnovers, and 18 for the game, tying for its second-most all season (19 in opener against Campbell). Clemson also had 18 turnovers, but made up for it with torrid perimeter shooting. The Tigers made 41 percent of their attempts (7 for 17) from 3-point range.
Clemson, which earned the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the ACC tournament, was led by Jerai Grant's 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. His personal reward? A left eye that was swollen shut after the game, compliments of an inadvertent blow from Jeff Allen, who had just nine points on 1 for 5 shooting, five rebounds and eight turnovers.
A 9-0 run late in the half helped Tech cut Clemson's halftime lead to 34-30. After Clemson pumped its lead back up to double digits at 45-35 with 14:40 left in the game, Tech was unable to trim it under seven the rest of the way.
"We worked our butt off to get back in the game," said Tech's Manny Atkins, who scored nine points. "It's just bodies, man…We don't have enough (players), really. We were working our tail off to get back in the game. Everybody just got dead. No legs."