Virginia’s Akil Mitchell scored 16 points and helped slow Devin Booker.
On its trip to Clemson in January, the Virginia men’s basketball team mustered just 44 points in a dreadful double-digit loss. On Thursday night at the John Paul Jones Arena, the Hoos had that many points just three minutes into the second half as part of a dominant 78-41 victory. The Cavaliers have won 13 straight games at the John Paul Jones Arena, their longest streak in the building’s history.
“First, I want to congratulate Tony [Bennett] and his staff and players on a terrific game,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Those guys were not only ready to play, but when they got off to the great start they didn’t let up at all on either end. They didn’t relax defensively at all, their offense was very crisp tonight, ball movement was great, and we were clearly on our heels from the onset.”
Not surprisingly, the tandem of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell had a lot to do with Thursday’s surge in offense against the Tigers. While that duo had a healthy 21 points for nearly half the team’s total in last month’s meeting, they were even better this time around as they combined for 37 points. Yes, you read that right. Harris and Mitchell nearly outscored Clemson (12-10, 4-6 ACC) own their own.
Harris mixed up his attack to finish 7-of-10 shooting (2 of 4 3-pointers) on the night for 21 points, his fifth 20-plus night of the season. He added 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and just 1 turnover. Mitchell, meanwhile, owned the post match-up with Devin Booker. He scored 16 points (ties an ACC career high) on 7-of-11 shooting to go with 6 rebounds, 5 steals, and 1 blocked shot. Mitchell had just 1 turnover after coughing it up 4 times in the first meeting.
“I felt like initially in the first half, we put a lot of pressure on them with cuts going to the rim and that allowed me to get some things opened up around the perimeter. If I have room and rhythm, I’m letting it go,” Harris said. “It was a clean game. We executed really well. I didn’t even realize it until I looked up at the scoreboard and realized we were winning by 20, and then 30. That was a testament to how well we’re playing. We didn’t let up at all.”
The Wahoo juniors had plenty of company during an offensive barrage against what became an increasingly uninterested defensive effort from Clemson.
Virginia freshman Justin Anderson tallied 14 points.
Justin Anderson , who started in Evan Nolte ‘s slot, asserted himself early and often en route to 14 points and 2 assists, which included a nifty no-look over-the-shoulder pass to Mitchell for a dunk in the second half. Nolte, meanwhile, rediscovered his outside shooting touch with a 3-of-4 night from 3-point range. The Hoos (16-6, 6-3 ACC) picked up some inside-outside scoring from Paul Jesperson for 5 points and a trio of 3-pointers from rarely used Taylor Barnette as well.
Add in Jontel Evans distributing the ball to the tune of 8 assists and 0 turnovers and the result ended up as a lopsided 37-point rout, the program’s largest against an ACC opponent since a 109-66 win over Duke (43 points) in the 1983 ACC Tournament. Evans struggled at Clemson with 3 assists and 5 turnovers, but he got the better of the Tigers this time around as he set a new career-high in the helpers category.
UVa finished 55.6% shooting overall (30 of 54) and 41.7% from 3-point range (10 of 24). The 10 made triples fell one short of the team’s season-high set at Virginia Tech. The Hoos also posted 17 assists with just 6 turnovers.
“Obviously, we moved the ball. They really played so well together,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “The ball moved and there were good cuts at the rim. Obviously, we shot it well. All that really came together nicely. … We got off to a big lead and Clemson was certainly out of sorts, but I think that was certainly our most unselfish game we’ve played all year.”
Naturally, any time the final margin grows to that extent then there had to be some defense involved too. Of course, that’s a given most nights with Bennett’s bunch anyway. Thursday was no exception. UVa held Clemson to 30% shooting (16 of 52) with just 5% success behind the arc (1 of 17). The Tigers made 6 of 10 treys in the first match-up.
Forward Milton Jennings did most of the damage in that regard in January when he dropped 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, which included 5 of 8 shots from downtown. That combined with Devin Booker’s 15 points and dribble penetration from primarily Rod Hall to really dismantle the Pack Line Defense in South Carolina.
The Cavaliers focused on slowing down Booker and the paint touches to help remedy those issues. Virginia held the visitors to just 10 points in the first half, the fewest allowed by the program in a half since Maryland scored 10 after intermission on Jan. 12, 1981.
“That was a great defensive half for us, just all-around team defense,” Harris said. “I thought [overall] we did a good job of really making it difficult on their bigs even though we were limited size wise. Last time we played against them, Booker just kind of had his way with us inside and Jennings had a lot of easy looks on the perimeter. I thought we did a really good job of just eliminating that tonight.”
It wasn’t all good news for Wahoo fans, though. Before the game, Virginia issued an official news release stating that center Mike Tobey has been sidelined indefinitely with mononucleosis. The freshman had started to find his stride in recent weeks and is averaging 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds on the season. With Darion Atkins already sitting out with shin problems, the post rotation has been cut substantially as the Hoos cross the halfway mark of the ACC schedule.
Bennett said that the Hoos will have to keep grinding and work players like Anderson at the power forward spot to deal with the absence of Tobey and Atkins.
“We’ve just got to keep battling, keep swarming, keep doing the thing we’re doing, and playing together like we are,” Bennett said. “We must put certainly a premium on playing smart, not getting in foul trouble, using our trap, using our choke [defense options].”