Virginia Tech guard Robert Brown (1) and Clemson guard Tanner Smith, right, vie for a loose ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament, Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Atlanta. Virginia Tech won 68-63. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
ATLANTA -- Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg patted Tanner Smith on the shoulder and offered a few consoling words.
Questionable for the ACC Tournament after a scary spill in Clemson's regular-season finale, the senior from Wesleyan played 35 minutes in the Tigers' first-round game against the Hokies at Philips Arena on Thursday.
Smith had 12 points, six assists, six rebounds, a steal and just one turnover. But it wasn't enough. Virginia Tech defeated Clemson 68-63 to end the Tigers' hopes of a fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth and relegate them to the NIT.
"Everything went so fast," Smith said of his ACC career. "It's hard to believe that it is over."
Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start a tie-breaking 9-0 run with under five minutes to play and the No. 9 seed Hokies (16-16) held off the No. 7 seed Tigers (16-15) down the stretch at the foul line.
Virginia Tech made 5 of 6 free throws in the closing two minutes, while Clemson was just 3 of 7. Smith, obviously tiring, was part of that, making only 1 of 3.
"There are plays you will always remember and, unfortunately, I will also have those missed free throws to think about," Smith said.
With the victory, Virginia Tech advanced to play No. 2 seed and No. 6-ranked Duke (26-5) at 7 p.m. today. The Hokies forced the Blue Devils to overtime on Feb. 25 at Duke, losing 70-65. Virginia Tech lost 75-60 at home on Feb. 2.
Clemson and Virginia Tech split their regular-season meetings, each winning by two points at home, and this game was closely contested throughout.
Green finished with 24 points and Hudson scored 19. Devin Coleman came off the bench to lead four double-figure scorers for Clemson with 15 points.
Down 8-2 early, Virginia Tech went on a 14-3 run to take a five-point lead. Smith, who had missed his first three shots, tied the game at 21 with a 3-pointer, but the Hokies then ran off six straight points before the Tigers mounted a charge of their own.
Smith had two baskets to begin eight straight points and Clemson led 35-30 at halftime after fellow senior Andre Young hit a late 3-pointer to cap a 14-3 run.
The Tigers were 5-for-9 from behind the arc in the first half, with Young going 3-for-3 en route to 11 points. Hudson, who made two treys, had 10 first-half points for Virginia Tech.
Clemson shot just 37.5 percent in the second half and was 3-for-13 from behind the arc. But the difference for the game was at the foul line, with the Hokies going 17-for-20 and the Tigers 9-for-15. Virginia Tech's 85 percent shooting was its best in an ACC Tournament game since joining the conference in 2005.
Smith took a nasty spill midway in the second half during an 80-72 loss at Florida State on Sunday and it was feared that he might have suffered a concussion. But his headaches subsided and he was able to return to practice.
"It was a blessing that I wasn't hurt worse," Smith said. "I knew early in the week that I should be able to play."
A four-time All-ACC academic choice who graduated in December with a degree in marketing, Smith came into the ACC Tournament 26 points short of 1,000 for his career and was close to becoming just the fourth Clemson player to have at least 1,000 points, 400 rebounds and 300 assists.
The 6-foot-5 guard finished the regular season second on the team in scoring at 11.1, first with 4.1 assists and third in rebounding at 5.0. His assist average was third in the ACC and he was second in steals, one behind teammate Young.
"We didn't accomplish what we had hoped this season, but the effort was always there," Smith said. "I think our senior class has established that standard for the younger players. I feel that great things are ahead for Clemson. I wish I could be a part of it."