Of the seven charter members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson has enjoyed the least success in men’s basketball with one regular-season title and no tournament championships.
With the ACC now in its 70th year, No. 19 Clemson (15-4, 7-1) finds itself on unfamiliar turf as a league leader as it prepares for Saturday’s visit by Virginia Tech (11-7, 1-6).
This season opened like many others for the Tigers. They were picked in the preseason to finish 11th in the 15-team league, with coach Brad Brownell on the proverbial hot seat after getting Clemson to the NCAA Tournament just three times in 12 seasons.
But the Tigers have been a revelation, winning their first seven ACC games for the first time in program history.
The streak came to an end Tuesday night with an 87-77 loss at Wake Forest as Clemson was without Chase Hunter, who had a foot injury.
The status of Hunter, who is the Tigers’ second-leading scorer (14.0 points per game) and leader in assists (4.3 per game), is uncertain for Virginia Tech. He was hurt in last weekend’s 72-64 win at home over Duke.
“I didn’t think it would be significant,” Brownell said. “But Sunday, it was very painful, and it’s stayed painful the last couple of days. When he’s ready, he’ll go.”
Hunter played a key role in the first Virginia Tech game, a 68-65 Clemson win in Blacksburg, Va., on Jan. 4. Hunter scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half as the Tigers overtook the Hokies.
Against Wake, Clemson was led by frontcourt standouts PJ Hall (22 points, nine rebounds) and Hunter Tyson (19 points, 14 rebounds).
Without Hunter however, the Tigers were burned by the Demon Deacons backcourt of Tyree Appleby (24 points, seven assists, five steals) and Cameron Hildreth (17 points, 10 rebounds).
Clemson has a 10-0 record at home but the Tigers could have a tough matchup on Saturday as Virginia Tech has Hunter Cattoor back in the lineup.
After missing the Hokies’ previous four games, all losses, with an elbow injury, the defensive standout made his return in the Hokies’ 78-68 loss Wednesday night at No. 10 Virginia.
Cattoor tallied 11 points, six rebounds and five assists as all five Virginia Tech starters scored in double figures.
It wasn’t enough however as the Hokies lost their sixth straight game, their longest losing skid since the 2014-15 season.
Even in losing, there were positive signs for the Hokies. They made 12 of 27 shots from beyond the arc (44.4 percent) and committed just eight turnovers.
“They are the best team in our league right now,” Hokies coach Mike Young said of Virginia. “My bunch came in here and fought and, I thought, did some really, really good things.”
Justyn Mutts stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists, while Darius Maddox (13 points) continued his emergence from a shooting slump.
Virginia Tech got bad news heading into the Virginia game as freshman Rodney Rice, who made his debut last week in a loss at Syracuse after missing the Hokies’ first 16 games with an ankle injury. He is sidelined again after sustaining a broken finger in practice. He is out indefinitely.
–Field Level Media