CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)—Look out below.
Clemson forwards Trevor Booker, Raymond Sykes and Jerai Grant turned the second half against Virginia into their own personal dunk contest and lifted the 18th-ranked Tigers to a 75-57 victory on Tuesday night.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell had seen enough soft shots in the first half to last all season and told his team to be aggressive.
“When we get the ball down low and the opportunity is there, we’re going to try and dunk it,” said Booker, smiling.
Terrence Olgesby had 18 points, Sykes 14 and Booker his 11th double-double of the season with 13 points and 15 rebounds as the Tigers (23-6) snapped a two-game losing streak.
At 9-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson was guaranteed back-to-back winning league seasons for just the second time in school history.
And it couldn’t have been a more crowd-pleasing finale at Littlejohn Coliseum.
It didn’t start out that way, though.
Virginia, which shocked the then 12th-ranked Tigers 85-81 last month, was ahead in this one, 33-32, early in the second half.
Booker got things started with a dunk that gave Clemson a 38-33 lead. Sykes, one of two seniors in the Tigers starting lineup, followed with a right-handed throwdown moments later.
Grant, the son of former Oklahoma star Harvey Grant, added a dunk to stretch the lead to 44-35.
Booker used the left hand for his next jam, sending Littlejohn Coliseum into a frenzy and putting the Tigers ahead 50-35.
Just for fun, Booker used both hands to jam it home with 3:54 left and his team up 71-51.
“You know what, it’s a special team when you have guys with that kind of athleticism,” Oglesby said.
In all, Clemson jammed it home six times after the break.
“It fueled the energy. It fueled the crowd,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said.
It didn’t help that Virginia’s star freshman, Sylven Landesberg, was held to three foul shots. He came in averaging 17.4 points, but missed all six shots he took as the Cavaliers (9-17, 3-12) lost their fourth straight.
Leitao said opponents have come to run players at Landesberg in waves. For Clemson, K.C. Rivers and David Potter did most of the work around the perimeter with the 6-foot-9 Sykes waiting inside.
“It has led to a little bit of frustration,” the coach said.
That was obvious for the Cavaliers, called for three technical fouls—one each on Leitao, Calvin Baker and John Brandenburg.
Leitao strode out near the 3-point line to protest one no call on Jeff Jones in the opening half.
Baker showed his angst slamming the ball hard to the floor after a foul call, although Leitao added his guard was mad at himself and the situation and not the official.
Finally, Brandenburg had a prolonged scream after blocking Demontez Stitt’s shot that the officials did not like.
Oglesby made the Cavaliers pay, hitting all six foul shots. He finished 10-of-10 from the foul line.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell was glad his club recovered from its short losing streak. “This team is resillient and probably could’ve handled” losing three straight, Purnell said. “But I didn’t want to go there.”
Before the game, Purnell sat teary eyed on the bench during pregame, a box of tissues alongside as he prepared for the emotions that flowed in the last home games of seniors starters K.C. Rivers and Raymond Sykes.
Purnell saw a lot to cry about early on from his Tigers.
Baker scored nine of Virginia’s first 13 points to pull the Cavaliers in front, 13-9. Then after the Tigers used a 13-0 spurt the next three minutes, Virginia answered back with an 10-0 run of its own to move back in front.
Leitao looked like he hurt his team’s cause, getting whistled for a technical with 9:07 left when he came out near the 3-point line to complain about a no call.
However, Virginia began its surge soon after and held the Tigers scoreless for more than four minutes.
When it was over Clemson’s coach and seniors thanked the crowd for their support. “We’re not done yet,” said Rivers, who’s played in Clemson record 91 victories in his four seasons.