Despite a shaky second half shooting performance, the Virginia Cavaliers improved to 15-6 (7-4 ACC) with a 51-44 win over the Clemson Tigers. Braxton Key was electric with 19 points and eight rebounds, highlighted by his 4-for-6 showing from three. Coming into the game, Key had made just 3-of-28 from three in conference play, and his total would have been 5-for-6 if not for one that was halfway down rimming out.
Mamadi Diakite (13 points) and Jay Huff (10 points) also reached double digit scoring, and Kihei Clark added 10 assists.
As a team, Virginia shot 37% from the field (just 32% in the second half) and 35% from three for the game. Despite a couple untimely late turnovers, Virginia finished with just eight giveaways for the game while dishing 13 assists on 17 made baskets.
Aamir Simms led the Tigers with 16 points, and Clemson shot just 33% from the field for the game.
Virginia started the game on a 7-0 run, with Clemson’s first basket coming at the 16:12 mark. The Cavaliers looked crisp, played smart with the ball, and hounded the Tigers relentlessly on defense.
The lead grew to 14-2 with a high-arcing three from Woldetensae. Simms made a nice move around Huff to double the Tigers’ points, and a breakaway from Key ended with the ball hitting the rim. A three from Simms cut Virginia’s lead to 14-7, but the Hoos couldn’t capitalize as they went on a 4+ minute scoring drought.
Stattmann, back from missing two games with a concussion, pushed Virginia’s lead to nine with a nifty take to the bucket. Clemson went into a zone, and after a couple missed shots, Diakite canned a three from the top of the arc to give the Hoos a 19-7 lead with six minutes left in the first half. Huff negated a bucket from Clemson with another tight alley-oop, but Al-Amir Dawes hit a tough lefty shot to trim the lead to 10.
Another Clemson three made it 21-14, but Key answered with his second three of the half to return the Virginia advantage to double digits. Key followed his own miss for a put-back, giving the Cavaliers a 26-14 lead at the half.
Key led the Hoos with eight first half points, followed by Diakite with seven, and Huff with six. After struggling with turnovers all season, Virginia gave the ball away just twice in the first half and had five assists on seven made buckets. The Cavaliers shot 41% from the field and 40% from three over the first 20 minutes.
Clemson had more turnovers (seven) than field goals (six) in the first half as the Tigers shot 29% from the field and 25% from three. Simms led Clemson with five points.
The Tigers got on the board first in the second half, but Huff answered in the paint to keep the lead at 12. Tevin Mack’s second three of the game made in single digits once again before Diakite made two free throws to push the advantage to 30-19. Clemson started heating up from outside, with Dawes hitting another three from the corner.
On the ensuing possession, Stattmann pulled up for a gorgeous three to give Virginia a 33-22 lead. Mack kept the pressure on with a layup, but another 4+ minute scoring drought from the Cavaliers (coupled with a 3+ minute one from the Tigers) saw the lead stay the same. Dawes got a lucky bounce to pull within seven with under 10 minutes to play, but Key answered with a two after driving the baseline to make it 35-26.
Simms quickly got an easy dunk for the Tigers, but Clark only added one point from the free throw line out of three attempts. Key’s terrible luck continued as a good looking three went halfway down before spinning out, and Simms made it a seven-point game with one free throws with 7:26 to play. Mack rebounded Simms’ miss, was fouled, and made both free throws to cut Virginia’s lead to 36-31.
Another three from Simms made it a two-point game, and Virginia struggled to come up with an answer until a huge three from Key made it 39-34 with 4:50 left to play. Key pushed the lead to six with one made free throw to keep Clemson at arm’s reach. One free throw from Simms cut the advantage to five, and then the Clemson big man got a two to go to make it a one possession game yet again.
Diakite answered with a two through traffic with 2:34 remaining to give the Hoos a little breathing room. Clemson got a two to go in the lane, but couldn’t take advantage of a Virginia turnover. Key showed confidence in the long ball with his fourth made three of the game, putting Virginia up by six.
Clemson couldn’t convert, and Key pushed the lead to seven at the free throw line. Newman kept thing interesting with a three, Huff made one-of-two at the line, and Dawes was unable to cut into the lead at the free throw line as he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
A handful more free throws gave the Hoos a seven point lead with under 20 seconds to play, and Virginia would run out the clock for the win.
Next up, Virginia heads to Louisville for a huge road game on Saturday at 4pm.