Much to the dismay of Virginia fans, the "Cardiac Cav" moniker is starting to make a comeback. In true "grind it out" fashion, UVA used a second half run to take the lead and held on late, beating the Tigers 65-61. Though the team struggled at times, Mike Scott's double-double and Joe Harris's 3-point sharpshooting helped the 16th-ranked Cavaliers weather the storm and notch another ACC win to improve to 18-3 (5-2 ACC) in the 100th game played in John Paul Jones Arena. Clemson dropped to 11-10 (3-4 ACC).
If you hadn't heard, Mike Scott is really good. He finished with an efficient 23 points on 8-11 shooting; his tenth rebound, grabbed milliseconds before the game clock expired, gave him a double-double for the night. His efforts still may not have been enough if it weren't for Joe Harris; his 19 points included 5 of 6 three-point shooting (tying a career high) as he powered UVA to a lead that it would not relinquish.
Despite these big numbers, the game was too close for the likings of a more subdued JPJ crowd. Whether because of the grind of a 3rd game in 6 days, a winnable home game between two tough road dates, or just an off night, the first half was devoid of the intensity that had powered the Hoos throughout its hot start. Clemson, who had been no better than an average offensive team all season, found room to get their shots off and made them. The Tigers had success with the pick and roll and found open men working inside-outside, as Devin Booker scored 15 points and Tanner Smith made 4 of his 5 three-point shots.
UVA came out looking like a different team in the second half. Despite trailing 30-26 going into the break and a game-high 35-30 a minute in, the Hoos went on 11-0 and 8-0 runs, with just a Booker three in between. Joe Harris made shots at will, bringing the crowd to life and leading to a couple Clemson timeouts. With an 11 point lead and 10 minutes to go, it appeared Virginia had a chance to pull away and roll to a win. However, the fatigued team seemed content to coast, allowing the Tigers to make the next run. With three minutes to play, the lead was down to 4; that's when Clemson's full-court press, always a Wahoo weakness, threatened to steal the game.
The team's press break was somehow as bad as ever. Part of this is attributable to the lack of Jontel Evans's presence. With four fouls, two picked up on ill-advised out-of-control charging fouls, he sat on the bench down the stretch, a decision that surprised me. Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski were both caught in corners with the ball, leading to turnovers. Additionally, Zeglinski missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1:10 to play, which allowed Clemson to cut the lead to 3. UVA's next possession was another poor one, as Sammy held the ball and missed a long three. Thankfully, Mike Scott iced the game by making all four of his huge free throws, keeping the game just out of reach.
Struggles against the full-court press were a common theme of last season. Inexplicably, it's not something we have had to deal with much this year. After Clemson's late game success, I would expect other ACC coaches to attempt presses to keep the offense out-of-sync....as well as a better-practiced plan from Tony Bennett in breaking them.
Unlike in of our earlier losses when guards had struggled, other players were able to pick up the team. Obviously, this all starts with Scott, who not only took over the game but was seen exerting some of those much-talked-of "intangibles," encouraging players and really zoning in on defense, tying his career high with 3 blocks. Darion Atkins may have only played 8 minutes, but he made both shots he took, grabbed two rebounds, and had two blocks; however, two quick fouls sent him back to the bench down the stretch.
Fouls were also a problem for Jontel Evans; he picked up his fourth foul with 8 minutes to play. He had struggled all night, scoring 4 points and notching 6 assists, but also turning the ball over 5 times. The Sammy that made four threes in Raleigh did not show up, as he shot 2 of 8 on the evening and failed to get back on defense after a layup, leading to a quick three for Clemson.
After a concerning rebounding performance against NC State, UVA got back on track. The team's 24.3% clip allowing offensive rebounds on the year is good for fourth in the country. After allowing a miserable 50% in Raleigh, the team grabbed 27 of Clemson's 33 misses (allowing 18.2% to go back to the Tigers).
Though it wasn't always pretty, good teams do what it takes to win close games and great players guide their teams through the storm. Virginia and Mike Scott were able to do both and picked up yet another ACC win, continuing to separate themselves from the pack in the middle of the conference. Coach Bennett probably wasn't thrilled with the effort. In fact, Jontel Evans confirmed it: "He got on us a little bit. He told us that we weren't playing hard defense. That's our bread and butter. He just wanted us to pick it up in the second half, and that's what we did."
Thankfully, the team has a few days to rest up after this rapid-fire stretch. The Hoos return to action Saturday, when they travel to Tallahassee to take on the surging Seminoles. The matchup promises to be a battle, as each squad ranks in the top 5 in defensive efficiency and will be be competing to cement themselves in the upper tier of the ACC. After starting the year with mediocre out-of-conference play and a loss to Clemson in-conference, Florida State is in the midst of a five-game winning streak, with two of those coming against UNC and Duke. We'll have more discussion of that big opportunity later in the week right here at Streaking of the Lawn.