NEWTON, Mass. -- There was a light moment in the interview room after the Eagles won their first ACC game over Clemson on Thursday night.
Dennis Clifford was asked what his teammates told him before he took two big free throws with 24 seconds left and the Eagles up two points.
“They were just saying to be confident and that I was gonna make ‘em. Which, uh ” the big man said, trailing off as teammate Lonnie Jackson laughed next to him at the postgame podium, “didn’t really happen. But they really had confidence in me, which is important. The other step is just me being comfortable every time I go to the line, which I’m working on.”
The 7-footer from Bridgewater, Mass., went 5-for-9 from the charity stripe against the Tigers, dropping his season average from 70 percent to 67.8 percent.
BC coach Steve Donahue isn’t worried.
“He’s been really good [from the foul line] over the last month,” Donahue said. “I took him out at the very end because it just was in his head, but his stroke has been really good. I think he’s gonna be a good foul shooter as we go along.”
Clemson clearly thought enough of him to be concerned. Tigers big man Devin Booker picked up a pair of fouls fighting for position with the BC big man.
“I think they had great respect for him,” Donahue said. “I think Dennis did a really good job tonight of sealing them off. We worked all week on their bigs, and how they seal so well. I thought Dennis really took to that. He’s like, ‘If they’re gonna do it, I’m gonna do it.’ You saw that tonight.”
Clifford wasn’t afraid to bang in the post, scoring on short hooks, dunks and layups. And he didn’t hesitate to let fly from outside, either. He made one elbow jumper and rimmed out a 3-pointer from the wing.
“I’m encouraging him to shoot the shot,” Donahue said. “The 3 was a great look, too. We had a scrimmage early in the season he had four 3s. He had two against Seton Hall in a scrimmage. All of a sudden he’s gotten away from that.
“I think that’s a part of his game,” the coach said. “To me, it shows you that he’s being more relaxed, that he’s more confident, that he’s willing to take those shots, he’s not worried about what’s gonna happen if he misses.”
Clifford finished 5-for-8 from the field and was the game’s high scorer with 15 points.
More than catch-and-shoot
Right behind Clifford in the scoring column was Jackson, with 14. Most of those points came in one second-half burst that included a right-wing 3, a catch-and-shoot 3 off a screen and a driving layup and-1.
“They were doing a great job on me in the first half, I just made the adjustment in the second half,” Jackson said. “I was open, Cliff set some great screens for me and the coaches put me in some good positions to show what I can do and I came through when I needed to.”
Jackson’s run came as part of a 16-4 BC burst that overcame a seven-point Clemson lead and built a short-lived five-point Eagles lead.
After the game, Jackson was asked about what his three-point play says about his game.
“I feel like a lot of people think I’m just a shooter, but I know I’m way more than that,” he said. “If they’re gonna come and crowd me like they were tonight, I’m gonna go around them and I’m gonna make plays for my teammates.
“I’m not just a one-faceted player, I’m gonna play the whole game,” he said. “That’s what I like to do. I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing.”
“I thought he was really terrific,” Donahue said. “He’s improved immensely over the last two months. I think he’s become more athletic, in terms of using his body on the basketball court. He’s not as rigid, he’s not as upright.
“For him to do that against that defense and get to the rim on that one, that was a terrific play,” he said. “He’s showing signs that he’s not just a catch-and-shoot [guy]. He’s also vocal, he’s competitive and he’s doing all the other little things, as well.”
Though Donahue has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to judge his inexperienced wards quantitatively, preferring to judge qualitatively, he acknowledged after the 59-57 win that getting a W is important for a variety of reasons.
One reason is that it reinforces the value of the hard work the Eagles are putting in during practice. Another reason is outward validation.
“Hey, listen, Clemson’s a good basketball team,” he said. “They beat a very good Florida State team by 20. I watched and it was extremely very impressive.
“So for us to come out and really compete and get a win,” he said, “the rest of the league says ‘You know what, they’re playing.’ There’s some respect there, and not that it means a whole lot, but you want that. You want people to understand that you got a good basketball team, you got good players and you’re playing hard.”
And while it’s possible that Clemson wasn’t entirely focused on the task at hand, with a home game against No. 6 Duke looming, the Eagles did what they had to do and left Conte Forum with a positive result. They’ll try to make that a trend Saturday, when Virginia Tech comes to town (3 p.m., ESPN3).
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.