Virginia Uses Late Surge To Get Payback At Clemson

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Virginia is 3-1 in the ACC.
Jayden Gardner poured in 23 points in the win at Clemson. ~ Photo by Kris Wright/

See saws. Tug of war. Ping pong. Air hockey.

The Virginia and Clemson basketball game Tuesday night resembled any number of back-and-forth activities for more than 30 minutes of competition. The teams exchanged blows through 15 ties and 15 lead changes as momentum alternated to and fro. The Hoos, however, stopped the teetering late and turned the topsy-turvy affair into a 75-65 win. UVA has won two road games to open the 2022 portion of the schedule and stands at 3-1 early in league play.

“We weren’t perfect, but we played real hard and it’s so hard,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “You’re fighting, the scale tips back and forth, you’re trying to outlast and wear people down and play tough defensively and get good shots and they do the same. I thought the guys hung in there, got to the free throw line, and just a lot of key things happened. Everybody who played gave us lifts and we needed that. … Granted, they hadn’t played since they played us so perhaps they could have been rusty, but that’s a good second victory on the road and we’ll take it.”

The scale favored Clemson briefly in the final 10 minutes. UVA trailed 57-56 exiting the under-8 media timeout with 6:58 to go in the second half, but tipped the scales in its favor late. The Hoos uncorked an 11-2 run to lead 67-59 and that eventually ballooned to a 19-8 closing surge. The finishing stretch seemed reminiscent of the Cavalanche theme from past years because it was a blend of offense and defense.

Offensively, the decisive run started when the Cavaliers hit 3 of 3 shots and 4 of 4 free throws over 2:46 of action. Jayden Gardner, who gave Clemson fits all night, pushed UVA ahead with a pair of free throws at the 6:51 mark and Armaan Franklin followed with back-to-back jumpers. Kadin Shedrick added two more free throws to make it a two-possession game and then Kihei Clark connected on a left wing 3-pointer to cap the 11-2 push with 4:05 remaining. It’s the second straight game where Clark knocked down a late-game 3-pointer on the left side of the floor; he canned one from the Carrier logo at Syracuse on Saturday in that win.

Defensively, Virginia buckled down over the last eight minutes to let that offensive flurry pay dividends. After P.J. Hall gave Clemson its final lead at 57-56 on a 3-pointer at the 8:08 mark, the hosts didn’t make another shot until 1:18 to go. During that seven-minute stretch, the Tigers missed 7 shots in a row and committed 2 turnovers. They did have 3 offensive rebounds in there, but one resulted in a quick turnover and another was a team rebound following a blocked shot that Shedrick sent out of bounds. Francisco Caffaro, Clark, and Shedrick all had defensive rebounds to close out possessions. Overall, Clemson made just 2 shots and 3 free throws in the final 8 minutes as Virginia pulled away.

Whether it was Clark’s key 3-pointer, a Shedrick block, free throws, or just tapping the ball back out on offensive rebound late as Caffaro and Franklin each did in the final minutes, Bennett said those are the types of plays needed to get games into the win column.

“You just need, when it gets down to that time, plays need to be made, a big shot needs to be made, a big block or offensive rebound, it kind of comes down to that,” Bennett said. “Yeah, you try to be sound and run your system and your structured things, but it does come down to making plays. That’s in a lot of different ways. [Kihei] did that. I thought he was really good against Syracuse and again tonight was very sound. Guys had a good pace about themselves with a good level of patience, but yet running their offense aggressively.”

If the final eight minutes sounds like a balanced effort with multiple contributors involved, it was and that was a reflection of the performance as a whole. Every player that saw time in the game scored and six of the eight posted 8 points or more. On the other end of the floor, seven of the eight players grabbed at least one defensive rebound and five players recorded 3 or more.

Gardner led the way in both categories with a strong outing. He poured in 23 points on 7-11 shooting, which featured a mix of mid-range jumpers and attacking the rim. He made 9 of 10 free throws and dished out 2 assists too. The forward also pulled down a team-high 5 defensive rebounds. The Tigers didn’t have a complete answer to slow him down. While they doubled him periodically and especially late near the block, he took advantage of space near the elbows and free throw line, spots where a double couldn’t really come, to repeatedly make jumpers.

This marked the third time in his UVA career that he’s reached the 20-point plateau (36th time in his career, which started at East Carolina). Tuesday’s game was physical and whistled somewhat tightly so Gardner took advantage on the interior.

“I mean I’m a big, strong kid so gotta be able to use my upper body to maneuver and get to the line,” Gardner said when asked about any emphasis on using his strength inside. “Mix it up. My jumpshot was falling tonight so I’m able to keep the opposing teams at bay so I just have to mix it up and pick my spots when I can drive and be aggressive and when to just pull up.”

Franklin joined Gardner in double figures with 13 points on 4-11 shooting. He made 1 of 6 3-pointers, 3 of 5 shots inside the arc, and 4 of 4 free throws. Franklin posted 4 rebounds and 3 steals. A quartet of players chipped in 8 points each. Clark got there behind a pair of 3-pointers and a layup; he had 4 rebounds and 2 assists too. Shedrick tallied 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots, while Caffaro added 8 points on 3-3 shooting. Reece Beekman rounded out the 8-point club with 8 points on 4-6 shooting to go with 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal. Kody Stattmann also chipped in 5 points and 2 assists with one 3-pointer rimming in and out to keep him one shot shy of 8 points too.

Overall, UVA shot 54.4% in the win (25-46), which included a blistering 61.9% (13-21) in the first half. The interior trio of Gardner, Shedrick, and Caffaro combined to go 12-16 shooting (75%) while contributing much of the team’s 34 points in the paint. That included a Shedrick tip-dunk and a Caffaro catch-and-slam that got the bench going in the second half. Much of that production was a giant swing from the loss to Clemson just two weeks ago. In the game at the John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia got no bench points at all and had just 12 points in the paint. The same trio shot 2-12 in the loss.

Other stat swings between the two meetings included cutting turnovers from 14 to 9 (only one in the second half), which chopped points off turnovers from 24 to 11 for the Tigers. It all added up to flip a 17-point loss to close 2021 to a 10-point win early in 2022.

“We adjusted some things from the last time we played them,” Bennett said. “We thought that was important in terms of what we wanted to do and just for how they played us. We made the adjustments and guys executed well. The assist-turnover ratio was good, points in the paint, but just a few more opportunities to keep some balls alive that were important. … I thought the guys hung tough. It was a good balance of the offense and defense tonight.”

Final Stats

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