CLEMSON - Standing at the free throw line with the game hanging in the
balance, Olu Babalola was the very picture of confidence.
The jitters, he said, didn't come until long after his two foul shots with
:05.7 to play lifted Clemson to a 78-77 victory over Virginia Saturday at
"When I got upstairs in the locker room, that's when I got nervous thinking
about it," said Babalola. "But on the floor it was important to maintain my
composure and hit the shots."
Babalola's heroics were the next-to-last scene in a frenzied play being acted
out Saturday afternoon. All that remained was for Clemson to somehow keep
Virginia from crushing the good vibes flowing through Littlejohn in the final
The Tigers were able to do just that, Chey Christie rebounding Keith
Jenifer's 20-footer from just right of the key as time expired.
Babalola's free throws and Christie's rebound not only capped an impressive
afternoon for both sophomores, but perhaps saved Clemson's season as well.
Now 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (11-2 overall), an 0-3 start in
league play could have been the loss that sent the Tigers into a downward
spiral toward yet another tournament play-in game.
Instead, Clemson heads to Florida State Tuesday with a chance to even its
record in league play and - perhaps again - stamping themselves as a team to
be reckoned with in the ACC.
"Had we lost this game, the next one would have been extremely important,"
Clemson head coach Larry Shyatt said. "But we won this game - it's over. The
celebrating is over. We've got a very important game coming up. That's the
nature of this league."
The Tigers rallied from a 74-71 deficit in the final 2:12 behind Christie and
Senior point guard Ed Scott (13 points) - who was suffering from flu-like
symptoms all afternoon - scored his only point of the second half on a free
throw to make it 74-72. Christie then scored on back-to-back possessions,
both on impressive drives to the basket from the wing, to put Clemson ahead
76-74 at :49.
But Virginia's Todd Billett answered with a huge 3-pointer from the left
wing, beating Babalola off a screen, with :33 left to put the Cavaliers back
on top, 77-76.
Clemson, choosing not to call time out ("We had called the next two offensive
possessions on our last timeout," Shyatt said), got the ball in Scott's
hands. Scott drove the lane and put up an off-balance one-hander that missed
But Babalola came in from the weak side, grabbed the rebound away from a
Virginia defender, and was fouled trying to get back to the basket. He then
calmly hit both free throws to give Clemson the lead and - ultimately - the
"Coach has been getting on me for not getting enough offensive rebounds,"
Babalola said. "So I knew I had to get that ball."
Babalola finished the game with nine points, all coming in the second half,
as he and Christie helped pick up the slack for Scott. Christie finished with
a team-high 16 points, nine of which came in the second half.
Sharrod Ford added 10 points for Clemson, while Shawan Robinson and Chris
Hobbs each had nine in reserve roles.
"What got us off to a 10-0 start this year was, occasionally, Chey and Olu
mixing up their games - not relying too much on Edward - and driving the
ball," Shyatt said. "What I'm happy with is that Chey turned the corner
tonight, stayed away from the baseline and attacked more in the middle."
That attacking mentality proved to be the difference on an evening in which
both teams played well offensively.
Virginia (10-5, 1-3) shot 59 percent (29-of-49) from the field and placed
four players in double figures, and at one point in the first half built a
nine-point lead. But they were unable to shake the Tigers, who battled back
to trail by just one, 43-42, at the half.
"We didn't get the (defensive) stops when we needed to," said Virginia coach
Pete Gillen. "We made some big baskets and showed courage. We did some real
good things, but we have to be able to stop them.
"We were desperate for the win, but they were more desperate. That's the
difference. They wanted it more."
Billett, the transfer from Rutgers in his first season of eligibility for
Virginia, led all scorers with 25 points. He hit 7-of-11 attempts from behind
the 3-point arc.
Elton Brown added 16 for the Cavs.
- Clemson center Ray Henderson sat out much of the second half with what
Shyatt believes to be a broken nose.
"He could have played, and he's upset at me because I didn't play him, but we
decided not to take the chance," Shyatt said.
- Clemson was outrebounded for just the second time this season, 28-27. The
Tigers did win the battle of the offensive boards, 9-7.
- The Tigers forced 14 Virginia turnovers, while giving it away themselves
just nine times.
- Despite his illness and second-half scoring drought, Scott still finished
with game highs in assists (9) and steals (3). Christie also had three
Smith 0-3 1-2 1, Watson 6-9 0-1 12, Vander Laan 4-6 2-3 10, Jenifer 0-4 1-3 1, Billet 9-13 0-0 25, Byars 2-4 0-0 4, Harper 2-3 0-0 6, Clark 1-1 0-0 2, Brown 5-6 5-7 16. Totals 29-49 9-16 77.
Ford 5-7 0-0 10, Babalola 3-7 3-5 9, Henderson 3-4 0-0 6, Scott 5-13 2-4 13, Christie 7-11 1-2 16, Betko 0-1 0-0 0, Nagys 2-3 2-2 6, Robinson 4-5 0-0 9, Hobbs 2-5 5-6 9. Totals 31-56 13-19 78.
Halftime-Virginia 43-42. 3-Point goals-Virginia 10-21 (Smith 0-2, Watson 0-1, Jenifer 0-2, Billet 7-11, Byars 0-2, Harper 2-2, Brown 1-1), Clemson 3-9 (Scott 1-3, Christie 1-3, Betko 0-1, Robinson 1-2). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Virginia 28 (Watson 8), Clemson 27 (Babalola 5). Assists-Virginia 19 (Jenifer 6), Clemson 18 (Scott 8). Total fouls-Virginia 20, Clemson 16. A-8,000.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.