Harris leads No. 17 Virginia to first win at Clemson in 7 years
CLEMSON, S.C. — Virginia coach Tony Bennett was so excited about his team’s first win at Clemson in seven years, he wanted to scream in celebration and pump his fists with his players in the locker room.
He didn’t, though. That’s not how the 17th-ranked Cavaliers built their longest win Atlantic Coast Conference win streak in 32 years and isn’t how Bennett believes they’ll go forward.
Joe Harris had 16 points, including a critical 3-pointer with about three minutes left, and Virginia won its ninth straight ACC game for the first time since Ralph Sampson dominated the middle there in 1981-82.
It also snapped a four-game losing streak at Clemson, enough reason for some postgame hoopla.
"But I said, nah," Bennett said with a smile. "Just told them, ‘Great win. Hard fought. Made plays down the stretch.’"
That’s keep with Bennett’s steady approach at success. It’s a stepladder, he tells his players, where you 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. Not that it came easily as Virginia’s No. 1 defense was matched up against a team in Clemson that ranked second nationally in fewest points allowed.
The Tigers (15-9, 6-6) trailed 49-48 on Rod Hall’s layup with 3:38 to go. That’s when Harris struck for a 3 and Anthony Gill followed with a three-point play for a 55-50 lead.
Clemson closed to 59-58 on K.J. McDaniels’ 3 with 20.7 seconds left, but Malcolm Brogdon made two foul shots as the Cavaliers held on.
McDaniels had 24 points before fouling out in the final seconds. He was Clemson’s only player in double figures.
"It does get to a point where we’ve got all step up as a team," Tigers forward Austin Ajukwa said. "One person can’t do everything. We’ve got to step up and fill our roles."
Virginia’s players have done that
Brogdon and Mike Tobey had 14 points each. The 6-foot-10 Tobey was a force underneath, making seven of nine shots. Gill had 12 points for the Cavaliers.
Virginia continued a roll the school hadn’t seen since Sampson’s stellar days. The Cavaliers also won a sixth ACC road game, the first time that happened since Sampson’s senior year.
The Cavaliers had already clinched their third consecutive winning mark in ACC play, something they last achieved in — you guessed it — during Sampson’s final three seasons.
That’s got fans back home excited about what’s accomplished and counting on bigger things ahead. Brogdon said it gets hard to navigate at times with fan recognition and the delight they take in each victory. "I think as long as we can really block that stuff out, we’ll continue to play at a high level," he said.
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 stood strongly against the Cavaliers over the first 20 minutes.
The Tigers showed some scoring punch early, making their first six shots and eight of their first 12 to lead 21-14 after DeMarcus Harrison’s 3-pointer with 8:30 left in the half.
That’s when Virginia turned things up on both sides of the ball during a 12-0 run to move in front. Harris, who missed two foul shots moments earlier, had a driving layup to start the Cavaliers’ charge, then hit a pair of 3-pointers — the last which put Virginia in front for the first time, 24-21.
Virginia eventually pushed the lead to 29-23 when 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.
Virginia shot 63.6 percent (14 of 22) in the opening half, while Clemson — 14th of 15 ACC teams in field goal percentage — was 11 of 22 for 50 percent.
The Tigers were playing at home for the just the second time in four weeks after a gauntlet of road games (at Pittsburgh, at North Carolina, at Florida State, at Syracuse and at Notre Dame) where they went 1-4 with the lone win coming at FSU. Clemson ended the stretch with a 68-64 double overtime loss to the Irish.
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.