CLEMSON, S.C. — Amari Robinson caught the final inbounds pass, threw the ball high in the air and screamed as time ran out on Clemson’s biggest win in more than two decades.
Robinson had 16 points and nine rebounds, and Clemson beat No. 7 Virginia Tech 64-59 on Thursday night for its first victory against a top-10 opponent since 2000.
The Hokies (11-2, 1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) cut a 15-point deficit in the third quarter to 58-57 with 3:14 to go, but couldn’t overcome the Tigers (10-4, 1-1).
“I think I almost feel like I had two heart attacks,” Robinson, a senior, said. “This is the greatest team win, the greatest feeling.”
Especially when Clemson had struggled against the game’s best this season. It was blown out by No. 1 South Carolina 85-31 last month, and then lost 77-59 to No. 6 North Carolina State to start ACC play two weeks ago.
After losing to the Wolfpack, Robinson said the team’s motivation was playing a complete game the way they had much of the season.
“We just finished this out playing the way we know how to play,” she said.
It was Clemson’s first win against a top-10 school since a 72-61 victory against then-No. 9 Auburn on Dec. 21, 2000. The Tigers’ last such ACC win happened a few weeks earlier that same season, 93-75 over then-No. 3 Duke on Dec. 3.
Ruby Whitehorn scored 13 points for the Tigers, including three free throws in the final 20 seconds. Daisha Bradford had 12, and Hannah Hank finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
Cayla King had 15 points and five 3-pointers in Virginia Tech’s second loss in three games. Georgia Amoore scored 14 points, and reigning ACC Player of the Year Elizabeth Kitley had 14 points and six rebounds.
Virginia Tech, once down 43-28, closed to 58-57 on D’asia Gregg’s 3-pointer with 3:14 to play.
Trailing 59-57, Tech had a chance to tie it up, but Kayana Traylor had the ball stolen by Bradford, who was fouled and made both free throws with 46 seconds to go.
Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said his players got stagnant when Clemson changed to zone defense after starting in man to man.
“We got to the point where it kind of snowballed. We had some good looks, we just didn’t knock them down,” he said. “Then our kids got kind of tight.”
The Tigers outrebounded Virginia Tech 21-16 the first 20 minutes. Kitley, who collected 27 boards the past two games, had none in the first 20 minutes.
Brooks said Kitley had to play more like the high-profile player she is. He thought she passed out of shots – Kitley took just seven shots – too often when the Hokies needed points.
“It was a myriad of things,” Brooks said. “We just didn’t play well at all.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have put themselves in a early hole in the ACC race with No. 13 North Carolina coming up next. Traylor, who had been averaging 13 points a game, was held to two points and missed all nine of her shots from the field.
Clemson: The Tigers had won six of seven coming in, led by the combo of Robinson and freshman Whitehorn. If Clemson continues playing like this, it’ll be a dangerous foe for the rest of the ACC.
Virginia Tech might not slide very much in the AP poll if it can beat the ranked Tar Heels on Sunday. If the Hokies lose again, it could be a long fall when the next rankings come out.
Virginia Tech plays No. 13 North Carolina at home on Sunday.
Clemson ends a three-game homestand against Wake Forest on Sunday.