No. 12 Clemson eager for return to action vs. No. 18 Virginia

NCAA Basketball

The Twitter account for Clemson men’s basketball had a simple message Wednesday after the team’s first practice in almost a week.

“Felt good to be back out there again,” it said.

After pausing for five days and postponing road games against North Carolina and Syracuse due to a positive COVID-19 test and contact tracing, the No. 12 Tigers return to game action Saturday night with a difficult Atlantic Coast Conference home matchup against No. 18 Virginia.

Clemson (9-1, 3-1 ACC) has taken care of business, aside from a 66-60 loss at Virginia Tech, presently ranked 20th, in its league opener on Dec. 15. The Tigers have won four straight, including a 74-70 overtime decision against North Carolina State in their last game on Jan. 5.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell hopes the 11-day layoff without a game doesn’t disrupt the rhythm his team built in its successful stretch.

“Frustrating, a little bit. Certainly disappointing,” Brownell said, according to the Greenville (S.C.) News. “We’ve been playing well. We won (four) in a row. We were coming off a great win and we were just looking forward to going to Chapel Hill and playing North Carolina.

“Guys are playing well and they want to play. When you have rhythm and you’re in a good space, that’s when you want to keep playing. So this will be a test for us, how we bounce back.”

The Tigers have been winning with defense and depth. Their leading scorer, Aamir Simms, averages just 12.6 points per game while No. 2 scorer Nick Honor chips in 10.7. But five other players contribute between 5.1 and 9.7 ppg.

Clemson’s tough, physical man-to-man defense yields only 57.6 ppg and hasn’t allowed more than 70 in a game this season. Opponents have canned just 39.1 percent of their field-goal tries and 29.9 percent of their 3-point attempts.

Meanwhile, Virginia (8-2, 4-0) is tied with Louisville atop the ACC after bouncing Notre Dame 80-68 on Wednesday, its highest-scoring game since a season-opening 89-54 rout of Towson.

Five players scored in double figures for the Cavaliers against the Fighting Irish, led by Jay Huff with 18 points. Virginia connected on 54.4 percent of its field-goal attempts, including an impressive 12 of 24 from 3-point range.

But the Cavaliers’ calling card, as always, is their defense. They are permitting just 60.3 ppg, although the Fighting Irish did ring up 43 second-half points. Coach Tony Bennett wasn’t pleased with that effort, saying his team drifted into “old habits.”

Bennett also knows that points could be at a premium against an opponent that is just as capable as his team of locking down for four to five minutes at a time.

“They make you earn what you get,” Bennett said of the Tigers, “and you better lace ’em up tight because that’s just the way (Brownell has) developed them, and they’re playing good basketball.”

Sam Hauser (13.8 ppg) leads four players in double figures for Virginia. Huff is adding 12.9 ppg on 65.4 percent shooting from the floor.

The Cavaliers have won 10 straight in the series, with the Tigers’ most recent victory occurring in January 2013.

–Field Level Media

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