CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Brad Brownell has waited for some timely offense to go with the Tigers’ staunch defense. Unfortunately, No. 17 Virginia accomplished that blend on Saturday.
The Tigers (15-9, 6-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) led the Cavaliers in the second half and trailed 49-48 with under four minutes left. Yet they couldn’t get past streaking Virginia, which won its ninth straight ACC contest for the first time in 32 years with a 63-58 victory.
“They finished the game like a team that’s 12-1 with 21 wins,” Brownell said. “Weren’t rattled at all on the road.”
Virginia came in with the nation’s top defense, allowing just 55.5 points a game this season. But Clemson’s defense is right behind, second nationally at 55.7, and the team hung with the Cavaliers in the first 20 minutes.
But late in the game, Joe Harris had his fourth 3-pointer and Anthony Gill added a three-point play to extend Virginia’s lead to 55-50. When Clemson rallied back one last time to 59-58 on K.J. McDaniels’ 3-pointer with 20.7 seconds left, Malcolm Brogdon made four foul shots down the stretch.
McDaniels scored 24 points for the Tigers, who dropped a third straight game for the first time this season. McDaniels had 19 points in a 57-44 loss to No. 1 Syracuse last Sunday, then had career highs of 30 points and 14 rebounds in a double-overtime 68-64 loss at Notre Dame.
“It’s frustrating and challenging to play like that and lose two games by a possession or two,” Brownell said. “The hard part is to keep fighting. But we will try and regroup.”
Harris finished with 16 points and the Cavaliers won their ninth straight ACC game for the first time since Ralph Sampson dominated the middle in 1981-82. It also snapped a four-game losing streak at Clemson, enough reason for some postgame hoopla.
“But I said, ‘nah,’” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said with a smile. “Just told them, ‘Great win. Hard fought. Made plays down the stretch.’”
That’s in keeping with Bennett’s low-key approach to success. It’s a stepladder, he tells his players, that they must carefully climb.
“You put two feet on that step and everything you’ve got,” he said. “That’s the most important one.”
The Cavaliers (21-5) moved to 12-1 in ACC play, also for the first time since Sampson’s days. Brogdon and Mike Tobey had 14 points each for Virginia. The 6-foot-10 Tobey was a force underneath, making 7 of 9 shots. Gill added 12 points.
Virginia eventually pushed the lead to 29-23 before Clemson rallied back with a three-point play and short banker by McDaniels.
Harris missed a step-back 3, but Tobey had the strong tip-in right before the horn sounded and Virginia went to the locker room ahead 31-28.
Clemson played without starting center in 6-foot-10 Landry Nnoko, who was out with the flu. Without him, the Tigers managed only five rebounds in the opening half.