Jennings leads Tigers to first ACC victory

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Prior to Saturday’s crucial ACC home game against Virginia, Milton JenningsMilton Jennings
Sr. Forward
#24 6-9, 225
Summerville, SC

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promised teammate Devin BookerDevin Booker
Sr. Forward
#31 6-8, 250
Whitmire, SC

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that he would match Booker’s intensity and concentration. He delivered.

Jennings scored a game-high 21 points and 11 rebounds and Booker added 15 points and nine rebounds as Clemson used a 15-6 run to end the game as the Tigers defeated Virginia 59-44 Saturday afternoon in Littlejohn Coliseum.

Jennings finished a point off his career-high as the Tigers (9-6, 1-2 ACC) avoided their first 0-3 ACC start in 13 years and won their fourth straight at home over the Cavaliers (11-5, 1-2). It was Virginia's lowest point total since a 63-44 loss to Boston College on Feb. 26, 2011. Joe Harris had 14 points and was Virginia's only player in double figures.

“Because of the way the season is going, we needed guys to step up and Book and I need to be those guys,” Jennings said after the game. “I finally wanted to match his intensity, and I told him I was going to hit the boards as hard as he does. I told him that when I got open shots I was going to take them. Today I was confident and the coaching staff put in some plays for me and I came through for them.”

Jennings called the win over the Cavaliers “huge.”

“We understand that they are a great team,” he said. “They beat North Carolina pretty good. We were obviously 0-2 in the ACC going into this game and we needed a win. I told the guys ‘let’s go get this one’ and we did that today.”

Brad BrownellBrad Brownell
Head Coach
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said he was proud of the way his team competed.

“It was a hard fought win. I was really proud of how our players competed,” Brownell said. “Any time you play a Tony Bennett coached team you’re going to be in a grinding game. They really make you work. I thought our guys played really well today. They defended them and fought through some tough screens. We worked our tails off defensively, but we executed offensively as well. We got the ball to our two seniors, and they played well and made good shots. I was really happy for Milt (Jennings).”

The first half was a ragged affair – Virginia had nine turnovers and Clemson had six – but the Tigers showed more movement on the offensive end and the Tigers held a 24-20 lead at intermission.

Neither team led by more than four points – Clemson jumped out to a 4-0 lead to start the game and Virginia’s largest was just two points – and the teams had 14 rebounds apiece.

The Tigers got off to an inauspicious start in the second half, giving up a 3-pointer to tie the score and drawing a shot clock violation that had Brownell throwing out R-rated comments.

However, McDaniels stopped the bleeding with a free throw and Jennings hit back-to-back 3-pointers that gave Clemson a 31-24 lead at the 16:22 mark and forced Cavalier head coach Tony Bennett to burn a timeout.

The Cavaliers failed to score coming out of the timeout, and Clemson made them pay when Jennings found Booker on the inside for two points and the Tiger lead was nine at 33-24.

When the Cavaliers trimmed the lead to 33-29 on Evan Nolte's 3-pointer, Jennings and Damarcus HarrisonDamarcus Harrison
So. Guard
#21 6-4, 200
Greenwood, SC

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led a 7-0 run for the Tigers. Virginia eventually climbed back to within six points on a 3-pointer by Joe Harris – with 6:46 remaining that – that made it 44-38.

The Tigers held Virginia at bay long enough for Jennings to hit is fifth 3-pointer – with just over two minutes remaining – to give Clemson its first double-digit lead of the night at 53-42, and the Tigers were able to hold off the Cavaliers the rest of the way.

Brownell said the team watched film of Clemson’s loss to Duke earlier this week, and knew they needed to do a better job of getting the ball to the seniors.

“I didn’t (plead to the team) any more than usual,” he said. “We talked about getting Milt (Jennings) some shots. The guys know we need to do a better job of getting the ball inside. We watched film on the Duke game and saw that sometimes we got the ball to Book and other times we didn’t when he was open. We have shown our guys that a bunch this year. There were penetration situations that we needed to improve. That isn’t going to be solved without months and months of work, but I think our guys did have the idea that we were going to play inside-out today.”

Brownell was seen exhorting the crowd to cheer late in the second half, and he said he was wanting to get his team some support in a crucial situation.

“Yeah, I don’t do that very often, but our team is working so hard,” he said. “I’m not on our fans at all, because they have been supportive. We haven’t played well at times to deserve as much support as we have gotten. That’s just one of those things where you are in a fight and it is a possession game and every one is important. I was pleading with our guys to continue to defend, compete, and fight. We are not a very dynamic offensive team, so the defensive end is where they can help us the most. When they are screaming and yelling, and making it hard to score, and putting some doubt in our opponents and giving our guys some juice…that is when the fans are going to help us the most. I was just encouraging them to stand up and support their guys.”

Clemson shot just over 50 percent from the field for the game (17-for-33) but shot at a 76.9 percent clip (10-for-13) in the second half.

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