By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — With the game close early in the first half Saturday, Clemson forward Milton Jennings lofted up a shot from the right wing that hit nothing. It did not hit the rim, the backboard or even the net. It was an air ball.
The next time the Tigers got the basketball, Jennings again received the ball on the wing and again he was open, however this time he passed up the shot. When play stopped for a timeout a few moments later, head coach Brad Brownell had a little message for his senior forward.
“He came right to the bench and I said, ‘Hey man, you have to keep shooting. We need you,’” Brownell said.
Jennings listened to his coach and he gave Clemson exactly what it needed. The Charleston, S.C. native scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 5 of 9 from behind the three-point line as the Tigers cruised to a 59-44 victory over Virginia at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Jennings’ 21 points were one shy of a career-high and they came at a good time with the team’s best pure shooter, Jordan Roper, out of the game after suffering an ankle sprain in Friday’s practice.
“It was not a big thing, but Jordan Roper not being out there, that’s one of our better three-pointer shooters and now he is not out there. Adonis (Filer) and Rod (Hall) are not going to start making threes all of a sudden, so we are going to need somebody to make some shots.”
Jennings’ shots did not start falling right away. He was 2-for-7 in the first half, including 1-for-3 from behind the arc as Clemson led 24-20 at the break. The Tigers (9-6, 1-2 ACC) were shooting just 36.8 percent as a team and were 1-for-4 from downtown.
But Jennings opened the second half with a three-pointer from the wing and he missed very little after that.
“I have been shooting pretty well in other games, the only problem is I have been taking just six to seven shots,” Jennings said. “I have not been exerting myself. I was not on the boards. I have not made the defense really guard me.”
Virginia (11-5, 1-2) tried to guard Jennings after he made a second three to extend Clemson’s lead to 31-24 with 16:25 to play, but it was too late for that. Once Jennings got going, fellow senior Devin Booker got rolling underneath as dropped in 15 points to go with nine rebounds.
Booker was just 3 of 10 from the floor, but he went to the foul 12 times and made nine of his free throws. Between the two of them, Booker and Jennings attempted 23 of Clemson’s 33 shots.
“We got the ball to our two seniors, and they played well and made good shots,” Brownell said. “I was really happy for Milt… We talked about getting Milt some shots. They guys knew we needed to do a better job of getting the ball inside.”
And the Tigers did that. Down the stretch, Clemson outscored the Cavaliers 9-2. Up eight, Jennings banked in a three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:58 to play and then followed with a steal that led to two made free throws, sealing the Tigers first ACC win of the year.
“Coming into today’s game, I had everyone in my ear. I had my family, my friends, my coaching staff and my teammates,” said Jennings, who also had 11 rebounds and three assists. “I had all the right people telling what I had to do and it transferred over to the floor.”
And for Clemson, it could not have transferred over at a better time.