Scott, Harris tame Tigers

The Virginia men's basketball team held advantages in nearly every statistical category, yet coach Tony Bennett still found his team trailing Clemson 30-26 at halftime. Whatever the former shooting wizard said to his players worked wonders, though, as his Cavaliers sank several big shots on 62.5 percent from deep during the second half and survived another nerve-wracking final two minutes to torpedo the Tigers, 65-61.

Senior forward Mike Scott and sophomore guard Joe Harris continued to close in on Jay-Z and Beyonce in the power couple rankings. As they have for most games this season, Virginia's dynamic duo paced the Cavalier offense and finished with a combined 42 points on 15-of-20 shooting - almost double the output of the rest of the team.

"I thought Joe and Mike offensively were terrific tonight," Bennett said. "It was nice to see that, and we needed it. Some of the plays Mike made and Joe made were timely ... I really liked their activity and I liked how they hunted the shots offensively. It was nice to see them getting some rhythm and going to work."

Scott's game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds should have been enough for a comfortable win against a middling conference opponent already missing junior forward Milton Jennings for academic issues.

Virginia (18-3, 5-2 ACC) led Clemson (11-10, 3-4 ACC) in rebounding, assists and blocks, and the team had a 50 percent field goal shooting mark at halftime. But the Cavaliers trailed by four thanks to a paltry 16.7 shooting percentage from behind the arc and a sometimes lifeless and disorganized defensive effort.

"[Bennett] challenged us to come out in the second half with more energy," senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "We were probably a little bit dead in the first-half for whatever reason. I thought we met the challenge."

Thankfully, defense and deep balls are Bennett's specialty, and the Cavaliers roared back to life to start the second half. After forcing an ugly three-point shot on the defensive end, Zeglinski drained his first deep ball of the contest at 16 minutes 51 seconds. Zeglinski's basket snatched a 36-35 lead, Virginia's first in more than eight and a half minutes, and forced a Clemson timeout. Instead of closing down the Cavaliers' perimeter players, however, Tigers coach Brad Brownell opened the floodgates.

"They exploited us a little bit, and the challenge at halftime was this has to change," Bennett said. "It's not that they weren't giving effort in the first half, but we really battled in the second half and ironically our offense came with it."

Virginia embarked on a 19-3 run as the Cavaliers turned a 35-30 deficit into a 49-38 advantage with 11:30 remaining. Virginia's run relied heavily on nine points from three long-range bombs from Harris, who finished 5-of-6 from deep for 19 points thanks to Scott's inside-outside success.

"Now teams are worried about Joe and they're forgetting about me, or they're worried about me and they're forgetting about Joe, so either way one of us is going to get production," Scott said. "It was definitely important because they were double downing me and I had to make a pass."

Clemson closed to within 57-53 with 3:14 left after back-to-back Virginia turnovers.

The Tigers successfully started to apply full-court pressure with the Cavaliers' main ball handler, junior guard Jontel Evans, parked on the bench for pivotal stretches late in the game after struggling with his ball and body control. Evans, who averaged 31.5 minutes per game his past eight games, finished with five turnovers and just four points in 24 minutes.

"It was a little uncharacteristic for Jontel to have five turnovers, with three of those being charges," Bennett said. "He wasn't the best with some of his decision-making ... [But] he was physical and I believe he will get better."

Akil Mitchell appeared to end the game with two clutch free throws for a 61-55 edge with 1:23 left, but Clemson junior forward Devin Booker drained a three and Zeglinski followed with his sixth miss of the night to set up a sweaty-palmed final possession for the home crowd.

With less than 20 seconds left, though, senior guard Tanner Smith's three clanged off the front of the iron, and Scott sealed the win with four final free throws to tie his ACC career high in points.

"That made the difference, that was significant," Bennett said. "Probably the greatest joy as a coach is to see a player mature on the floor, which [Scott] has, but what I see from him off the court is in terms of leadership and the way he's reached out to care for his teammates."

Despite finessing - and occasionally bullying - his way to his sixth 20-point game and double-double of the season, Scott stopped short of proclaiming what his on-court production seems to suggest - that he is the premier player in the ACC right now. But the senior didn't back down from the heavy burden of leading an undermanned team that managed just six bench points against Clemson.

"I know I have an 'X' on my shirt, every post player or every forward is out to shut me down, but I like that challenge and I step up to it," Scott said. "I think I've worked hard in the offseason and I'm still working hard ... I'm not worried about the ACC Player of the Year, I'm just trying to lead my team to wins"

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