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Gill, Virginia seek road win at Clemson

North Carolina win keeps Virginia alive for ACC regular season title

<p>Senior forward Anthony Gill's high motor returned on GameDay. He scored 15 points and snatched a game-high nine rebounds in the 79-74 win over North Carolina. Prior to Saturday, Gill had averaged just 8 points and 6.33 rebounds over the Cavaliers' 1-2 stretch.&nbsp; </p>

Senior forward Anthony Gill's high motor returned on GameDay. He scored 15 points and snatched a game-high nine rebounds in the 79-74 win over North Carolina. Prior to Saturday, Gill had averaged just 8 points and 6.33 rebounds over the Cavaliers' 1-2 stretch. 

Virginia’s game against North Carolina Saturday certainly wasn’t a must-win situation, but it was an important stepping-stone for the team.

After dropping a heartbreaker in Durham against Duke and falling 64-61 against now No. 7 Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., a defeat would have made the Cavaliers losers of three of their past four games and eliminated them from contention for the ACC regular season title.

But in front of a College GameDay audience, No. 4 Virginia (22-6, 11-5) quelled any doubts about its recent performance in a 79-74 win against No. 8 North Carolina. The Cavaliers never pulled away by more than 11 points, but only trailed for 1:36.

Following the game, Tar Heel coach Roy Williams used an over 400-word opening statement praising coach Tony Bennett and Virginia.

“I said it even this week and I said it last week, and I said it at the start of the season,” Williams said. “Me and my buddies get together and I thought Virginia had the best team in the country. Tony does a great, great job, and he’s a credit to what we should have in coaching.”

Cavalier fans have become well-accustomed to compliments of Bennett, the reigning conference and U.S. Basketball Writers Association National Coach of the year. However, what he put together Saturday likely matched any job he has done over his six-plus seasons in Charlottesville.

Senior guard Malcolm Brogdon was his usual self, sinking 26 points, but more importantly, Virginia found scorers from other position on the floor. Junior guard London Perrantes and sophomore guard Devon Hall each scored in double figures, although the most impressive performance might have come from senior forward Anthony Gill, who had 15 points and nine rebounds.

The High Point, N.C., native was in the midst of his worst slump of the season. After a dominating start to the year, stretching his double-figure scoring streak to 25 games, Gill put up a meager four points against Pittsburgh, and had only managed six points in each of Virginia’s past two games. His dominance in the paint against North Carolina was a welcomed return to form.

“Whenever I’m not making shots and being productive on the offensive end, it really hurts our team,” Gill said. “For me to go out there and be able to put the ball in the basket really helped our team a lot.”

Gill will seek a similar performance Tuesday against Clemson. The former South Carolina transfer had 12 points in a 69-62 victory against the Tigers earlier this season.

Gill’s performance was even more important given North Carolina’s dominance in the paint. With three big men at over 6-foot-9 — junior forwards Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks and senior forward Brice Johnson — who each average over 18 minutes per game, the 6-foot-8 Gill was undersized against the talented Tar Heel front court.

Still, his effort made an impact on Bennett. Of Gill’s nine rebounds, four came on the offensive glass, while he also added two blocks. The Cavaliers had more points in the paint than North Carolina, 32-28.

“You saw those [North Carolina] guys and how long and athletic they are,” Bennett said. “He competed hard. He got on the glass a couple of times and made some plays. We needed it all.”

Against Clemson, Virginia will need a similar effort. The Cavaliers are facing the Tigers in their temporary home of Greenville, S.C., where they are 13-3 this season.

Clemson will also honor three seniors Tuesday night. The Tigers have won nine of their past 10 contests on senior day.

Junior forward Jaron Blossomgame leads Clemson with 18.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. The Alpharetta, Ga., native, who redshirted his freshman season due to a compound fracture his senior year of high school, also shoots 41.9 percent from three. He led all scorers with 23 points against Virginia Jan. 19.

The Tigers started the season with a 6-2 conference mark, but have fallen down to seventh in the ACC standings after losing five of its last eight games, including its last two against North Carolina State and Georgia Tech, respectively.

Virginia, meanwhile, is one game out of first-place in the ACC standings, behind North Carolina and Miami. The Cavaliers likely must win its final two contests in addition to having the Tar Heels and Hurricanes slip up to win its third consecutive regular season conference season championship.

Even if Virginia cannot accomplish the three-peat though, it certainly won’t lack for respect among its conference competitors.

“They really have done some great things the last three years,” Williams said. “They got themselves right back into it after a little slump in the middle of the season.”

Tipoff against Clemson is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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