Andre Young and Tanner Smith scored 13 points each and Devin Booker had all 10 of his points in the second half as Clemson ran past the Cavaliers, 60-48, on Tuesday night. The Tigers (13-12, 5-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) will carry a two-game win streak into Chapel Hill, where they are 0-55.
"We haven't said anything to them about it," said Clemson coach Brad Brownell, who couldn't escape a question or two about his team's upcoming challenge. "They're off tomorrow. We'll come back Thursday and formulate a plan."
Brownell certainly had a good one to handle Virginia (19-6, 6-5). The ACC's second-best scoring defense stood strong throughout, forcing 18 turnovers (Virginia gives up fewer than 12 a game) off 14 steals. Virginia was held to its second fewest points this season, behind a 47-45 loss to Virginia Tech last month.
Cavaliers star Mike Scott was held to 13 points, four fewer than his average coming in while outside threat Joe Harris was ineffective trying to play with a broken left hand.
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"It's huge for us to get this," Booker said. "We just knew we had to go out and compete."
Harris came in averaging 12 points a game, but was limited to two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Jontel Evans led the Cavaliers and tied his career high with 17 points. But Virginia wasn't the same team without a healthy Harris. "Without Joe, we're not much of a threat from three," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "Those missed shots and turnovers are really crucial in a game like this."
So is getting to the line, something the Cavaliers also didn't do. Evans had the team's only free throw more with less than nine minutes left in the game.
Bennett said Harris' struggles allowed Clemson to pack things in around the smooth-shooting, 6-foot-8 Scott. Virginia's star also had to deal with Tigers 6-9 forward Milton Jennings, who sat out the team's earlier meeting because of academic issues.
Jennings presence was enough to push Scott out of his comfort zone, Bennett thought.
With Scott further out, Booker was able to get free around the basket in the second half. Clemson's 6-8 junior was 0-for-1 with no rebounds in the opening period, then scored 10 with four rebounds after the break. He also added two blocks and two steals.
The Cavaliers looked poised for a second-half charge after Evans had a three-point play and inside bucket to cut the lead to 44-41 with 7:56 remaining. That's when Clemson got going on its charge.
Smith hit a basket to start the run, while Booker had two baskets sandwiched between a shot by freshman Rod Hall. When Smith made two foul shots with 1:55 left, the Tigers were ahead 54-43 and celebrating.
Virginia came in missing a big part of its attack when Harris just couldn't get comfortable playing with his injury and did not start. When the sophomore did come off the bench, it was clear he was favoring the wrapped-up hand. He missed his only shot and committed two turnovers in 11 minutes of first-half action. Harris came in averaging 12.5 points and was crucial in the Cavaliers' 65-61 win over Clemson back on Jan. 31 with 19 points off five 3-pointers.
Having Harris at half speed seemed to affect his teammates, too.
Clemson forced 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes, nearly what Virginia gives up in a game with its 11.5 average. The Cavaliers finished with 18 turnovers, while Clemson picked up 14 steals.
Harris' replacement in the starting lineup, Malcolm Brogdon, picked up some of Virginia's missing touch from the outside with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Young kept the Tigers in it throughout the period. He scored the first five points and added a second 3-pointer that put Clemson out front, 14-13.
Young had the chance to send Clemson into the break ahead, but he made just one of three free throws after getting fouled behind the arc. Young had a similar situation in the Tigers previous game at Littlejohn Coliseum, having three foul shots with 10 seconds left that would've tied things against Maryland. Then, too, Young made just one and Clemson lost 64-62.
Clemson offered discounted two-for ticket packages that drew a sellout crowd to Littlejohn. Then at halftime, one of the school's Rally Cat dancers, Nicole, said `Yes" to a marriage proposal from her boyfriend, Tad, to the cheers of all attending.
Booker hopes there's Clemson cheering and celebrating at the Dean Dome on Saturday. He, like his brother, Trevor, and every other Tigers player past and present, wants to see that streak end.
"I think we can do it," Devin Booker said. "We're young, but our game is getting better."