CLEMSON, S.C. — Milton Jennings is done passing up shots that he and his Clemson coaches know he can make.
The Tigers senior, one of just two upperclassmen on the roster, scored a season-best 21 points on five 3-pointers and added 11 rebounds in Clemson’s 59-44 victory against Virginia on Saturday.
Jennings, like everyone else on the Tigers, struggled in a 68-40 loss at No. 1 Duke Tuesday night. He had the only 3-pointer his team made at Cameron Indoor and Clemson shot below 30 percent in the blowout defeat.
So coach Brad Brownell got in everyone’s ear, including Jennings’, about making offense happen when it comes your way.
“It’s been drilled in our head this week, and that’s the difference,” Jennings said.
Jennings finished a point off his career best as the Tigers (9-6, 1-2 ACC) avoided their first 0-3 ACC start in 13 years. Devin Booker added 15 points and nine rebounds for Clemson, which won its fourth straight at home against the Cavaliers (11-5, 1-2).
The five 3-pointers were a career high for Jennings, who got his sixth career game with double-figure points and rebounds.
It was Virginia’s lowest point total since a 63-44 loss to Boston College on Feb. 26, 2011. Joe Harris had 14 points and was Virginia’s only player in double figures.
“They can put a little pressure on you with Jennings, especially when he’s hitting bank shots from three (point range),” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
Jennings took control of things for Clemson early in the second half with consecutive threes for a 31-24 lead. When the Cavaliers cut things to 33-29 on Evan Nolte’s 3-pointer, Jennings and Damarcus Harrison led a 7-2 run for the Tigers.
Virginia’s last good chance ended when Booker had back-to-back blocks on Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson seconds apart and Jennings followed with his fourth 3-pointer for a 44-35 lead with 7:12 remaining.
The Tigers came into the game dead last in ACC shooting and points per game but found their stroke in the second half. Clemson made 10 of 14 shots after the halftime, led by Jennings, who made 5 of 6 shots – four of those from behind the arc.
The bulk of Booker’s points came from the foul line, where he made 9 of 12. Hall was 4 of 4 for eight points for the Tigers.
It’s been an up-and-down career for Jennings, who came to Clemson as a McDonald’s All-American but has struggled to live up to that promise. The 6-foot-9 forward has been suspended three times the past two seasons and has not always performed at his best in crucial situations. Just a week ago here, he couldn’t control a late inbounds pass with Clemson trailing Florida State by three in a game the Tigers would lose 71-66.
With Jennings’ college career winding down, he’s not going to let opportunities to score slip by. “The important thing is winning, and in order to make our team win I’ve got to make people guard me the way they should guard me,” Jennings said.
If that happens, Jennings said that leaves Booker alone near the basket – generally Clemson’s highest percentage shot at scoring.
“We don’t always make a lot of shots,” said Brownell, Clemson’s third-year coach.
Virginia struggled with its shooting, going 5 of 17 (29.4 percent) from 3-point range. Harris, second in the ACC from way outside, made only 2 of 7 long-range attempts.
The Cavaliers also hoped to wipe away a disappointing performance in their last game, falling for a 10th straight game at Wake Forest last Wednesday night.
The Tigers lost some depth on Friday when reserve guard Jordan Roper, the team’s second-best 3-point shooter, hurt his ankle in practice and was ruled out against Virginia.
Things didn’t start well for either team. Virginia committed nine first-half turnovers and was 2 of 8 on three-point tries. Clemson also shot under 40 percent (7 of 19) and leading scorer Booker made only 1 of 6 from the field.
The Tigers went more than 7 minutes without a basket until Hall’s jumper with 1:11 left in the opening half. Then K.J. McDaniels’ block on Tobey started a fast break that ended with Booker’s lone bucket of the period to put Clemson ahead 24-20 heading into halftime.
Harris, Virginia’s top scorer, struggled to find his outside shot. He was just 1 of 4 behind the arc in the opening half.
The game had a football theme to it, as Clemson hosted several high school players it hopes to sign next month. Coach Dabo Swinney and quarterback Tajh Boyd were honored during the first half, while longtime NFL star defensive back – and ex-Tiger star – Brian Dawkins was brought out to fans’ cheers in the second half.