UVa’s Jontel Evans poured in 17 points in the loss.
The Virginia men’s basketball team’s shaky February showing took another wobble Tuesday night when the Cavaliers suffered a 60-48 setback at Clemson. The Hoos, who soared to an 18-3 record through January, dropped their third loss in four games this month. All three defeats have come on the ACC road.
Against the Tigers, Virginia had almost as many turnovers (18) as made shots (22). As a result, the visiting Hoos squandered a 50% shooting night and saw the hosts pull away over the game’s final 15 minutes.
“When you’re in a game that’s lower scoring, possessions really matter. Whether it’s a turnover on our end or we make a defensive mistake, those possessions hurt and sting,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “If you look at the stat sheet, the tell-tale numbers are the 18 turnovers, especially in a game with this few possessions. That’s 18 times we don’t get a chance to get a shot. We shot 50 percent, but our three-point shooting was poor. Without Joe [Harris] we’re not as much of a threat from three. Those missed shots and turnovers are really crucial in a game like this.”
Indeed, turnovers plagued the Cavaliers throughout the night in South Carolina. The miscues were particularly costly as the second half wound down, though. Trailing just 33-32 coming out of a timeout, Virginia crumbled down the stretch for the second straight game. In the final 15:59 at UNC on Saturday, the Hoos made just 5 of 21 shots in the loss. Over the final 15:06 at Clemson, UVa committed 6 turnovers – 1/3 of the total for the night – and made 7 of 16 shots.
During what proved to be the game’s decisive period between 7:30 and 3:42 on the clock, Clemson grew a 44-41 lead to 50-41. Those four minutes included a string of four possessions where the Cavaliers had three straight turnovers followed by a blocked layup. They never recovered.
“They made a couple of good plays, but we were just being careless. We tried to feed the post and we just didn’t value the ball,” Bennett said. “Some of it was also just active defense by Clemson.”
Part of Virginia’s turnover and scoring issues during that stretch can be attributed to its long-range shooting woes. For the second straight outing, UVa made just 3 of 16 3-point attempts. Certainly Harris’ broken hand (non-shooting left hand) contributed to those woes in this one – he did make 5 of 6 triples against Clemson in January – but whatever is causing the Hoos’ shooters to go ice cold is creating offensive spacing problems.
When there’s no 3-point shooting threat on the floor, you see just how much the space condenses and clogs up the space in the paint. With Jontel Evans , Sammy Zeglinski, Malcolm Brogdon , Mike Scott, and Akil Mitchell on the floor late Tuesday night, the Tigers really smothered Scott and shut down the driving lanes.
“Without Joe, we don’t have as much of a threat out there,” Bennett said in The Daily Progress. “With Sammy struggling, and Jontel not being a 3-ball shooter, and Malcolm being a freshman, there’s not a lot of options. When it’s Malcolm, Jontel, Sammy and Akil, we can’t stretch the defense. That’s an offense that allows defenses to put a corral around Mike.”
Scott still finished with a solid set of numbers. He recorded 13 points and 8 rebounds. Evans, meanwhile, had his best offensive night as a Wahoo with 17 points, which tied a career high. He made 8 of 11 shots on the night and added 3 assists as well. Otherwise, only Brogdon contributed much to the scoring column with 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Zeglinski and Harris each made just 1 of 5 shots for a combined 5 points, while Mitchell added two buckets and 4 points as well.
Clemson, on the other hand, put three players in double figures. Tanner Smith and Andre Young led the way with 13 points each, while Devin Booker chipped in 10 points. Booker did not score in the first half, but proved to be a difference-maker after intermission.
“He took advantage of us getting worn down as the game went on,” Bennett said. “He ducked in hard on the inside and his physicality showed. He played like a man out there.”
The question for a team battling depth and injury issues is whether the Cavaliers are worn down and weary overall with the season’s finish line on the horizon. For a team whose lofty postseason aspirations have hit a stumbling block, there’s not much time to refill the tank. The Hoos will try to bounce back and right the February ship when Maryland visits the John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday at 1 p.m.