Ten days after defeating Clemson, No. 13-ranked Virginia is set for another meeting with the Tigers on Friday night as the teams square off in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
In the first matchup between the teams this season, the Cavaliers (24-6) won 64-57 on Feb. 28 despite not shooting particularly well from the field (40.7 percent), the 3-point arc (5 of 19) or the foul line (15 of 22).
Still, that triumph ignited Virginia, which has won three straight games after back-to-back losses, including a 68-59 win over North Carolina in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Jayden Gardner (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Reece Beekman (15 points, five assists, five steals) were among the standouts for the second-seeded Cavaliers, who shot 49 percent from the floor and committed only six turnovers.
“We don’t want to assume anything. We just get as ready as we can,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “We’re grateful, and we talk about not looking to the left or the right. That was the message today. Just be strong and courageous and step forward and trust your teammates and stay united.”
Virginia was without forward Ben Vander Plas, who suffered a broken right hand in practice on Wednesday and will miss the remainder of the season. Kadin Shedrick, who had not played in the previous two games, stepped up with five blocks in his place and likely will see plenty of action again Friday.
“Losing a guy that’s played a lot, that’s always tough,” Bennett said of Vander Plas. “But this group rallied around that and each other and came out and played against a team that was playing some hot basketball from the last game.”
Bennett’s team has won 13 of its last 14 meetings with Clemson (23-9), although the third-seeded Tigers are coming off a dynamic 80-54 victory over North Carolina State in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
PJ Hall and Ian Schieffelin led the team with 15 points apiece, while Hunter Tyson contributed 10 points and 12 rebounds and Chase Hunter notched 11 points and nine assists. The Tigers outrebounded the Wolfpack 41-28.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team win,” Tyson said. “I know they hit the offensive glass pretty hard, so I just wanted to get in there and play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion, do whatever I can to lead us to a win.”
Clemson also got a lift from its bench, which outscored the opposing reserves 20-4. Afterward, Hall was quick to highlight the work of backup forward Ben Middlebrooks (eight points, five rebounds).
“Ben Middlebrooks had one of the best games of his career tonight,” Hall said. “That was huge for him to come in and get some stops, rebounds. … He played great.”
The strong team effort by the Tigers might be enough to sneak them into the NCAA Tournament, but a win against the Cavaliers certainly would enhance their chances. Hall said Clemson can’t look past Friday’s game.
“Next game on,” Hall said. “Don’t matter. We want to win this (tournament) first.”
–Field Level Media