CLEMSON, S.C. – Jerai Grant scored 17 points and Clemson clinched a first-round bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a 69-60 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
The Tigers (20-10, 9-7) reached 20 wins for a record fifth straight season and, as the league's fourth-place team, get an extra day off before opening ACC tournament play next week. They could use it after this one.
Clemson held a 15-point lead with under 4 minutes to go when the Hokies tightened things with a 10-2 run and trailed 63-56 after Malcolm Delaney's foul shots with 1:28 to go.
Virginia Tech (19-10, 9-7) couldn't get any closer, however.
Delaney, the ACC's second leading scorer, finished with 19 points, but on 5 of 14 shooting. Delaney fouled out in the game's final minute.
Grant played his final regular-season game at Littlejohn Coliseum in style. After walking out with his dad, former Oklahoma standout Harvey Grant, for senior day ceremonies, Jerai kept it up against the Hokies. He went 8 of 13 from the field, adding nine rebounds and four blocks.
Demontez Stitt scored 15 points, Devin Booker had 14 and Andre Young 11 off three 3-pointers.
This one looked like the ultimate NCAA tournament bubble-buster with both teams straddling the projected in-out line of bracketologists the past few weeks.
Virginia Tech was a dead-solid lock a week ago with its 64-60 victory over then-No. 1 Duke, but the Hokies fell back a few days later with a loss to Boston College.
Clemson, too, appeared headed into the NCAA tournament with ease after back-to-back early February wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Yet, the Tigers have dropped three of their past five ACC games before this one to put their streak of three consecutive NCAA trips in doubt.
The Tigers came out like the team who most wanted off the bubble, moving out to a 24-9 lead. Grant and Stitt, both seniors, led Clemson's charge. Grant had a power jam and another inside bucket while Stitt made two 3-pointers to move the Tigers out front.
But Clemson's aggressive style of defensive — it leads the ACC in points allowed — has a downside and Virginia Tech took advantage going 9 of 12 from the foul line to stay in it.
The Hokies closed the half with 21-10 run the final nine minutes to cut Clemson's lead to 34-30 at the break.
The Tigers regained control in the second half, forging the 59-44 lead with stifling defense and crisp ball movement. When Tanner Smith broke free for an uncontested layup, Clemson's players celebrated as if things were done.
That's when Virginia Tech seniors Jeff Allen and Delaney led a final charge. Allen had a pair of foul shots, Erick Green a 3-pointer and Delaney 7 points to cut into the lead.
But Stitt had a layup and Smith followed with two free throws to restore Clemson's edge.