No.1 men’s basketball advances to final of ACC Tournament

Cavaliers’ defense guides them to victory against Clemson in semis


Senior guard Devon Hall's steady play helped Virginia past Clemson.

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

The No. 1 Virginia men’s basketball team’s signature defense was on full display as it advanced to the final of the ACC Tournament with a 64-58 win over No. 19 Clemson Friday night. The Cavaliers (30-2), who were the regular season conference champions, now have just one opponent — No. 12 North Carolina — standing in their way of being tournament champions, as well.

“I’ve been blessed to have such good players,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “This is a complete group. Their unity is a good as any team I’ve coached.”

Virginia entered the semifinal game after cruising past Louisville in the quarterfinal round, beating the Cardinals (20-13) for the third time this season with a score of 75-58. Just as Virginia showed it was capable of holding on to their lead against the Cardinals in the earlier round, the Cavaliers demonstrated the same thing against the Tigers (23-9) in the semis. 

The last time the two teams met, the Cavaliers crushed the Tigers with a score of 61-36. Clemson’s offense greatly struggled against Virginia’s pack-line defense in Charlottesville, and the Tigers shot a mere 15 percent from three after going three-for-twenty from beyond the arc.

The semifinal contest proved to have some of the same offensive difficulties for the Tigers, but they didn’t get beaten as easily this time as they did in January. 

In the first half, the game got off to a close start, with Clemson beginning to pull away and claim a lead. However, a 16-0 run by Virginia put the Cavaliers back in control of the game and sent them into the locker room with a 32-23 lead at the half. Redshirt freshman guard De’Andre Hunter was crucial in sparking Virginia’s 16 unanswered points with his seven points in the half. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy also continued to be an offensive weapon, scoring 11 points and going three-for-five from the three-point line in the first 20 minutes of play. Meanwhile, on defense, the Cavaliers held Clemson to 18.2 percent three-point shooting in the half.

Though Clemson was able to cut into Virginia’s lead in the second-half, the Cavaliers held on to pick up their second win of the season over the Tigers.

“They were very aggressive, they’re a good team,” Bennett said of Clemson. “They spread the floor and attacked us… they were the aggressors and we were a little on our heels... but our team defense picked up.”

Guy, who dropped 19 points against Louisville, led Virginia in scoring with 15 points. Sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite and senior guard Devon Hall both reached double-figures in scoring for the second game of the tournament with 10 points each. Junior center Jack Salt contributed on both ends of the court, finishing with eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.

“[Salt] is all heart,” Bennett said. “And he’ll do whatever you ask.”

As a team, Virginia shot 46.7 percent and 27.8 percent from three. Defensively, Virginia forced Clemson to turn the ball over 13 times and shoot 20 percent from three.

The Cavaliers will now meet up with North Carolina Saturday night to close out the ACC Tournament. Virginia reached the final of the tournament most recently in 2016, when they just came up short of winning the championship with a loss to the Tar Heels. The last time Virginia won the ACC Tournament was in 2014, when the Cavaliers defeated Duke to claim the tournament title along with their regular season title. 

Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 Saturday night at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY.

related stories