While Virginia’s historic start in the ACC has been built primarily on defense, Joe Harris provided some much-needed scoring down the stretch to keep the run alive.
Now the guard will try to help the 17th-ranked Cavaliers win at Clemson for the first time in seven years.
Virginia looks to keep the pressure on league-leading Syracuse with its ninth straight victory while sending the Tigers to their longest losing streak of the season Saturday.
After leading by 19 or more in nine of their previous 10 conference wins, the Cavaliers (20-5, 11-1) nursed a four-point advantage in the final minutes before pulling out a 61-53 home win over Maryland on Monday.
Harris stepped up with 16 of his game-high 19 points in the second half – including three clutch free throws in the last 1:03 – as Virginia continued its best ACC start in 32 years to remain just a half-game behind the unbeaten Orange.
Malcolm Brogdon had 14 points and Akil Mitchell added a season-high 13 for the Cavaliers, who are off to their best start overall since 1982-83. Brogdon has been on a roll, averaging 16.0 points and hitting 13 of 28 from 3-point range over his last nine.
Harris posted a combined 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting – including 7 for 10 from beyond the arc – to help Virginia win its last two home meetings with Clemson (15-8, 6-5). However, he totaled 16 while missing 12 of 18 shots in two road losses that came by a combined 27 points.
The Cavaliers have dropped their last four visits to Littlejohn Coliseum by an average of 17.0 points since a 64-63 victory at the buzzer there in January 2007.
"It seems like every time we go down there it’s a tough place to play," Harris told the team’s official website, "and Clemson’s just a tough team, defensive-minded, kind of like us."
Virginia could certainly use another big game from Harris in a matchup between the country’s top two defensive teams. The Cavaliers allow a nation-low 55.5 points per game, while the Tigers rank second at 55.7.
Clemson has been even stingier at home, giving up just 48.0 points on 33.8 percent shooting – including 19.7 percent from 3-point range – while winning 10 of 11 by an average of 16.0 points.
The Tigers, though, may have to break out of their shooting slump to avoid a season-worst third straight defeat.
After making 34.3 percent from the field in a 68-64 double-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Tuesday, they’ve put up a 34.8 field-goal percentage while losing four of six.
"We’re just not as talented offensively as we need to be," coach Brad Brownell said. "We’re very inconsistent shooting."
K.J. McDaniels was a bright spot Tuesday with a career-high 30 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, but the rest of the Tigers went 11 for 46.
The junior forward, sixth in the league at 17.0 points per game, became the first ACC player with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks in a game since Maryland’s Lonny Baxter in 2000.
"He’s certainly a guy you gotta be focused on, because he can hurt you in more than one way," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "He’s really, really improved."
Clemson seeks its second victory in as many home games against a ranked opponent after pulling out a 72-59 win over then-No. 16 Duke on Jan. 11.