The Virginia Cavaliers (16-5, 7-3 ACC) came into Saturday’s matchup against the Clemson Tigers (14-6, 4-5 ACC) hoping to continue their recent success, carrying a five-game win streak—the longest in the conference—into the afternoon showdown. Clemson has found itself faltering lately after an electric 11-1 start to the season and entered hoping to regain some momentum to maintain tournament legitimacy. Needless to say, the stakes were high for both teams, providing for forty minutes of purely entertaining, hard-fought basketball.
Clemson began with a poor shooting performance, opening 5-for-17 from the floor. However, their ability to extend possessions, with six offensive rebounds in the first eight minutes alone, allowed them to keep the game within one possession for the first ten minutes. However, Virginia began to pull ahead, forcing a four-minute scoring drought to go up 11, albeit momentarily. Clemson, however, countered by stringing together a pair of back-to-back threes and another lay-in to bring the game back within one score as Virginia grew cold. However, in the final minutes of the half, three clutch jumpers, including a difficult three-pointer by Jacob Groves as time expired, gave the underdog Hoos a comfortable 8-point cushion.
Virginia quickly shot up to a twelve-point lead out of the break—the largest they would have all day—before Clemson steadily narrowed the gap during the second half. The Tigers went on a 7-0 run in the ensuing three minutes; the Cavaliers tallied five missed shots and a turnover over the span, quickly allowing Clemson to remain competitive. With 5:36 left on the clock, a three-pointer by P.J. Hall gave Clemson their first lead since 8-7. A sequence of gritty, back-and-forth basketball ensued, staying within one score until the two-minute mark. In a crucial moment, Wahoo sharpshooter Isaac McKneely, who had been cold from the 3-point line for much of the game, hit a dagger from beyond the arc while being fouled. He completed the four-point play to create some much-needed separation.
Virginia held onto their two-possession lead, but with 7 seconds left, Jordan Minor fouled out on an aggressive attempt to contest a P.J. Hall three-point attempt. Hall proceeded to hit all of his free throws, bringing the score to 66-65. Virginia was forced to spend their last timeout after nearly committing an inbound violation. Clemson immediately fouled after the inbound, sending Dante Harris to the free-throw line with a one-and-one opportunity. He missed, giving Clemson a fast break and an opportunity to win. Ultimately, Jack Clark’s last-second shot attempt was too strong, allowing the Cavaliers to barely triumph after an anxiety-inducing second half.
Jacob Groves’ masterclass finished with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting off the bench. McKneely and Beekman both tallied 14, albeit on subpar shooting, with only one three-pointer made between them. The Tigers were led by center P.J. Hall, who scored 19, and Joe Girard, who dropped 14, twelve of which were cashed off of three-pointers. Ryan Dunn collected ten rebounds, the most of any player. Reece Beekman led the game with four assists and achieved a milestone, scoring his 1,000th career point with the Cavaliers.
Virginia’s road woes have seemed to come to an end as they have now won back-to-back games at opposing arenas. However, their miscues at the free throw line continued, shooting only 69% from the stripe in today’s matchup—including a crucial miss by Dante Harris on a one-and-one opportunity that ultimately gave Clemson the chance to make a game-winner. Foul trouble also proved costly; Clemson outscored Virginia by 9 from free throws alone, this being a major contributor as to why they were able to remain in the game and nearly mount an impressive comeback. Despite these lingering issues, this victory offers a promising look for the Cavaliers as they extend their win streak to six consecutive games.
With Duke’s loss to North Carolina later in the evening, the Cavaliers advanced into 2nd place in the ACC standings. This Quadrant 1 victory is an important resume builder for the tournament-hungry Hoos and could pave the way for a potential top-25 placement when the rankings are released at the turn of the week. Next on the schedule is a date with the Miami Hurricanes on Monday, as the Hoos hope to win their 23rd consecutive game in John Paul Jones Arena. As for Clemson, they are poised for another challenging duel on Tuesday when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on the juggernaut Tar Heels.