CLEMSON - Todd Billet scored five points in the final 16 seconds of play Saturday, rallying Virginia to a 58-55 victory over Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Billet hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with :16 to go, turning a 55-53 deficit into a 56-55 Cavaliers' lead. Billet then came up with a steal after Chey Christie dribbled the ball off his leg in traffic on the ensuing possession. Billet drove from just across the midcourt line for the insurance basket with 1.5 seconds to go.
Shawan Robinson's ensuing long inbound pass was too high for Sharrod Ford, sailing out of bounds and allowing Virginia (14-10, 4-9) to put the ball in play and run out the clock.
"Todd Billet hit another big shot for us at the end," said Virginia head coach Pete Gillen. "I told him we didn't need a three there, but he had a great look. A big reason for that was a great screen from Donte Minter. Todd has been on fire in practice the past couple of days and fortunately it carried over."
Neither team had a timeout left before the final flurry, but Gillen wisely used the time he had available once T.J. Bannister fouled out after hacking Clemson guard Shawan Robinson.
By rule, Gillen had exactly one minute before sending in a substitute. So without a timeout to spare and knowing that regardless of what Robinson did at the free throw line his team would be behind, he called Billet's number in the huddle.
"It's called 'two-out curl'," Gillen said. "I didn't tell him we needed a three, but on that play it's basically catch and shoot from wherever you get the ball."
Meanwhile, Clemson (10-14, 3-10) head coach Oliver Purnell was using the same 60 seconds to remind his team to do the little things it takes to win game, especially when leading down the stretch.
"We talked about defending, hitting free throws and not turning the ball over," Purnell said. "It turns out we did none of those right in the final moments. Virginia ran their patented play with Billet (game-high 21 points) coming off that down screen. It's in the scouting report and you know it's there. He's their best outside shooter and he beat us with it."
Billet's heroics were the culmination of a strong second-half effort by the Cavs. Trailing 28-20 at halftime, Virginia opened the second half with a 14-2 run - which included a pair of 3s from the wing by Billet - to take a 34-30 lead.
Clemson battled back behind a gritty effort from Olu Babalola, who scored 14 of his 19 points after the break. More than once he saved Tiger possessions with offensive rebounds, and when other teammates had problems getting off shot Babalola found a way to slash to the basket, scoring, drawing fouls or both.
"I thought Olu played very well for us," Purnell said. "He gave us a tremendous energy. he played hard, and I think that kind of ignited the rest of the team."
But beyond Billet's game-winner, the second most important play of the afternoon may have come with :31.8 to play.
Ahead 54-51, Clemson's defense forced Bannister to miss a short shot from the lane. His teammate, Jason Clark came up with the offensive rebound and scored on the second chance opportunity to pull the Cavaliers within one.
If Clemson comes up with a rebound in that situation, it likely wins the game. Instead, Clark's clutch putback set up the Cavs' dramatic finish.
"Obviously we're disappointed because we clawed and got ourselves into a position where all we had to do was make our free throws and get a couple of defensive stops," Purnell said.
"Those are things you've got to do to win these type of games."
VIRGINIA (14-10): Reynolds 2-10 0-0 6, Clark 3-4 1-2 7, Brown 3-11 1-5 7, Bannister 2-5 4-4 8, Billet 8-13 0-1 21, Byars 1-2 0-0 2, Forbes 0-4 0-0 0, Cain 0-0 0-0 0, Minter 3-7 1-1 7. Totals 22-56 7-13 58.
CLEMSON (10-14): Ford 1-5 2-3 4, Babalola 5-11 8-10 19, Akingbala 1-4 0-0 2, Christie 4-11 0-1 9, Robinson 4-11 1-2 10, Rice 1-6 0-0 2, Hamilton 2-3 0-2 5, Allen 0-1 0-0 0, Hobbs 2-7 0-0 4. Totals 20-59 11-18 55.
Halftime — Clemson 28-20. 3-Point goals — Virginia 7-17 (Billet 5-9, Reynolds 2-6, Bannister 0-1, Forbes 0-1), Clemson 4-15 (Hamilton 1-1, Babalola 1-4, Christie 1-4, Robinson 1-5, Rice 0-1). Fouled out — Bannister. Rebounds — Virginia 31 (Clark, Brown 5), Clemson 47 (Babalola 9). Assists — Virginia 11 (Billet 5), Clemson 9 (Babalola 3). Total fouls — Virginia 22, Clemson 16. A — 8,900.
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger. 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.