CLEMSON -- Precedent dictated Clemson's game against Virginia Tech had to come down to the final minute.
After all, each of their seven previous ACC meetings had been decided by five points or less.
This one provided the expected suspense, if not the plausible but unexpected outcome -- an 80-77 Clemson loss that robbed the No. 12 Tigers a chance to make headway in the race for second place in the conference.
Virginia Tech senior wing A.D. Vassallo made three free throws in the final 1:29, and Clemson sophomore point guard Demontez Stitt misfired on a pair of potentially game-tying shots, including a side-armed 3-point sling in the final seconds.
"In the end, it came down to we had to make a shot, and we came up short, couldn't make a big one when we needed to," coach Oliver Purnell said.
The defeat allowed the Tigers (22-5, 8-5 ACC) to potentially be passed for second place in the league standings.
A Duke win against Maryland on Wednesday night would drop Clemson to a game back and tied with Florida State for third, with Wake Forest and Boston College just another half-game behind.
The Tigers play at FSU at 2 p.m. Saturday before concluding the conference slate against Virginia and at Wake Forest.
Junior forward Trevor Booker finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds, including the breakaway layup that closed the Tigers within one at 78-77 with 0:20 to go.
Clemson employed full-court pressure after a timeout, but Clemson center Raymond Sykes failed to foul forward Jeff Allen on the inbound pass. Allen got the ball back to Vassallo, who sank two free throws with 0:12 left.
Sophomore guard Terrence Oglesby, who led Clemson with 22 points, was unable to get an open look from 35 feet on its final possession as Virginia Tech switched all screens.
The play was then designed for Oglesby to swing the ball to senior wing K.C. Rivers to the right, but Oglesby passed to Stitt on the left wing, and Stitt eventually slung a desperation 3 that sailed long as time expired.
"In this series, a three-point win is like a blowout," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said.
The Hokies (17-10, 7-6) were topped in scoring by sophomore point guard Malcolm Delaney, who followed his career-high 37 points against Clemson earlier this season with a 26-point, six-assist performance.
Vassallo added 21 in what figured to be a desperation game for Virginia Tech, which had appeared to be sliding out of NCAA tournament contention via a three-game losing skid.
After the teams exchanged the lead seven times in the opening eight minutes of the second half, Virginia Tech stretched to as large as a seven-point lead, 68-61, with 9:21 to go.
A pair of Oglesby 3s pulled Clemson back to a tie with 7:04 left, and the back-and-forth continued.
The Tigers were within two at 77-75 with three minutes remaining, but were unable to capitalize on a pair of stops to tie the game again.
Vassallo's free throw inched the Hokies ahead 78-75 with 1:29 left.
On the ensuing possession, Stitt missed a twisting shot in the lane with the shot clock winding down and 56 seconds left.
It was a recurring theme for Clemson, as Purnell lamented a number of gimmes missed down the stretch by Booker, who shot 2-for-9 in the second half.
"I feel like both teams are cut from the same mold," Oglesby said. "Our mistakes beat us tonight."