Virginia advances to ACC title game with Clemson shutdown
NEW YORK The No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers don’t need to win their conference tournament to make it to the big dance, but they haven’t stepped off the gas in Brooklyn.
Virginia knocked off No. 19 Clemson, the ACC’s fourth seed, 64-58 Friday at the Barclays Center to advance to the ACC Tournament final Saturday night. The Cavaliers rebounded from a five-minute scoring drought in the first half with a 16-0 run, then held off the Tigers’ late comeback efforts.
Virginia (30-2) last won the postseason conference title in 2014 and will face either Duke or North Carolina Saturday.
Kyle Guy led Virginia with 15 points, Mamadi Diakite scored 10 off the bench for the second straight day and Jack Salt scored all eight of his points in the second half in crucial moments. Salt also led the team with eight rebounds.
Shelton Mitchell scored 18 points and Elijah Thomas had 15 points and a team-leading seven rebounds for Clemson (23-9).
Aamir Simms started the game hot for Clemson with two big blocks, an assist and a hook shot from the post in the first five minutes. Soon after, the Tigers broke open an early stalemate with an 11-2 run, taking advantage of Virginia starting the game shooting 6-for-22.
A Cavalier scoring drought lasted 5:11, a length that later seemed quaint once they responded. Trailing 20-13, the Cavaliers broke out of their funk and assembled a clinical 16-0 run.
They came out of the under-eight media timeout down by five and ripped off five quick points to tie it at 20. De’Andre Hunter sank a 3-pointer, then stole a pass on Clemson’s next trip and set up Guy with a fast-break dunk. Hunter later was the beneficiary of a smooth Cavalier half-court play and scored to take the lead.
While Virginia got it back together, it was the Tigers’ turn for a drought: no scoring for 8:25 and no field goals in the final 9:32 of the half. After getting the 20-13 lead, Clemson missed 10 shots and made just one offensive rebound the rest of the half. Mitchell only got his team back on the board by drawing a foul on a 3-point shot and making his free throws.
Down 32-23 at halftime, Clemson came back out and ended the field goal drought on its opening possession with a post play to Thomas over top of Jack Salt. The Tigers went to Thomas down low on four straight trips after that, a far cry from their first-half strategy that only resulted in two points for the junior forward. He drew Salt’s first two fouls of the game, causing Bennett to sit him, and then converted a bucket-and-foul against replacement Mamadi Diakite.
Back-to-back dunks by Diakite extended Virginia’s lead to 10 and sent a jolt through the Cavalier-leaning crowd. It eventually became a 10-0 stretch that gave Virginia its largest lead of the game, 14 points.
After an official review, Diakite was called for a technical foul for elbowing a Clemson player under the boards. It was the substitute’s fourth foul of the game and Bennett subbed him out for Salt while Thomas made both free throws.
Clemson did its best to use the moment as a momentum-shifter and got within five points twice. But Salt hit two important, nearly identical jumpers from the right side of the key to give Virginia some space for the rest of the game. Despite getting to the line a few times in the final minutes, the Tigers couldn’t get within three points of the Cavaliers.
Virginia’s bench scored 21 points to Clemson’s meager five, and the Cavaliers had 26 points in the paint against the Tigers’ 14.
Virginia previously held Clemson to a season-low 36 points in their lone regular season meeting, which was the first game the Tigers played after losing senior forward Donte Grantham to a torn ACL.