Between the bad mojo of a disappointing road loss to Georgia Tech and the bad news about Mike Tobey, who will be out indefinitely with mono, UVA fans couldn't have felt overly optimistic about the team's rematch against Clemson. After all, the Tigers was significantly more physical in the team's matchup in Clemson, and that was with Tobey and Darion Atkins in the game. The Hoos put these worries to rest quickly, smothering Clemson on defense and scoring efficiently in a big 78-41 win in Charlottesville.
Clemson put up little fight against a motivated, focused, and crisp Virginia team. The Tigers scored just 10 first-half points, as the Hoos shut down every driving opportunity and contested each shot. Clemson turned the ball over 19 times to Virginia's 6, with most coming in the first half. They also sunk just 1 of their 17 three-point attempts, a paltry 6%.
Despite its early shooting woes, Virginia methodically pulled away. The team missed its first 9 three-point shots but found its points elsewhere, getting the ball inside, hitting mid-range jumpers, and drawing fouls. When those deep shots started to fall (and they did - the Hoos finished the game 10 of 24 from long-range), the rout was on.
Joe Harris showcased his versatility, scoring 5 points on free-throws, 6 on lay-ups, 2 on a mid-range jumper, and 9 from downtown to end the game with 21 points. Akil Mitchell had a big night too; he was asked to do a lot against Devon Booker and without much interior help; still, he came through with 14 points and played outstanding defense.
However, it was fan-favorite Justin Anderson who stole the show. He made the most of a chance in the starting lineup, going 6 of 9 from the field (5 of 5 on twos) for 14 points while notching 3 assists. Two of those points came on an emphatic alley-oop backwards dunk, and one of those assists came on a no-look over-the-head pass to Mitchell for the dunk; both are worthy of SportsCenter appearances.
Additionally, Taylor Barnette continues to make a case for more playing time. He made the only shot he took against Georgia Tech, and sunk three of four three-pointers against Clemson. Still, point guards Jontel Evans and Teven Jones also had fine outings, as Evans finished the game with 8 assists and 0 turnovers.
Clemson's game plan against a team it beat by 15 points just weeks ago was suspect. Booker worked the Hoos on the interior in that game, finishing with 15 points, mostly by drawing fouls, and also successfully kicked the ball back out open three-point shooters. He was relatively quiet tonight, finishing with just five shots. Milton Jennings was lights out from behind the arc in January, but finished with just two points in Charlottesville. The Tigers had little opportunity against a stingy defense, but they certainly didn't do much to maximize their scoring chances.
Virginia has done an outstanding job of taking care of business in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena this year. The Hoos haven't lost at home since November 13th against Delaware; overall, the team is 14-1 (5-0 ACC) at JPJ. Games on the road have been a different story; against Georgia Tech last Sunday, the team failed to retain its composure for all 40 minutes, blowing a 9 point lead late.
With the victory, the Hoos improve to 6-3 in the ACC. Halfway through the conference season, UVA has established itself as an upper-echelon conference team. However, its a squad with some major questions: Can it overcome its inconsistency? And, if so, can it overcome the damage done by its early-season losses to be on the good side of the bubble come March?
The Hoos have a big chance to make a statement on the road Sunday against a decent Maryland team. In the meantime, we all have a couple days to watch Justin Anderson's reverse alley-oop dunk on repeat.