No. 18 Virginia men’s basketball took down its first ranked opponent of the season, obliterating No. 12 Clemson 85-50 Saturday evening. The Cavaliers (9-2, 5-0 ACC) took control early and never looked back, draining 15 three-pointers, while the Tigers (9-2, 3-2 ACC) never had a chance.
Virginia opened the game strong with early three-pointers from senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff and a stifling defense. The Cavaliers took a 12-2 advantage into the second media timeout, and from there, their offense hit its stride, as Virginia scored 17 points in the next seven minutes of action.
The scoring was highlighted by senior guard Tomas Woldetensae, who hit three three-pointers in the run. During that span Clemson only scored three points, two of which came on a bucket from freshman forward PJ Hall with 7:34 left in the half — their first field goal in nearly 12 minutes. With that, Virginia surged to a 29-5 lead.
Through 17 minutes of play, the Tigers were three of 18 from the field despite generating a plethora of open looks, and although they made four consecutive shots to end the half, Clemson entered the break trailing 33-17. In the first half, junior guard Kihei Clark led the Cavaliers with 10 points, Woldetensae added nine points and the team shot 52 percent from the field.
After Clemson opened the second half with a jumper from sophomore guard Nick Honor to cut the deficit to 14, Virginia ended any hopes of a Tiger comeback, hitting a spectacular 17 of 19 shots through the first 12 minutes of the second frame.
During the team’s shooting streak, the Cavaliers hit nine consecutive three-pointers, including three from both Hauser and junior guard Trey Murphy. After scoring an efficient 33 points in the first half, Virginia poured in 43 points over the half’s first 12 minutes, ballooning a once 14-point lead to 39.
Virginia slowed down offensively over the game’s final eight minutes, but the defense remained consistent, and the Cavaliers maintained their dominant lead all the way to the final buzzer, winning 85-50.
Coming into the game, the Tigers ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing only an average of 57.6 points per game. No team had surpassed the 70 point threshold against Clemson, and for the Cavaliers, it was their second consecutive 80-point outing a year after not reaching that milestone once.
“We didn’t take our foot off the gas and we were for the most part sound [defensively] and made Clemson earn their baskets,” Coach Tony Bennett said.
The 35-point margin of victory marked the second largest road win against a ranked opponent in the AP Poll era, which began during the 1948-49 season. After being thrashed by top-ranked Gonzaga three weeks ago, the win was that much sweeter for Virginia.
“Obviously, taking a hard punch to the face from Gonzaga, it’s hard to get up from that, but you learn you live,” Hauser said. “You move on, and I think we’ve taken some great strides.”
In the second half, the Cavaliers made 10 three-pointers, pushing their total for the game to 15 — the most for the team since its season-opener against Towson. For the game, Virginia shot 60.7 percent from the field, and for the third time in the last four games but only the fifth time total in the Bennett era, five players reached double-figure scoring — this time coming from Hauser, Huff, Clark, Murphy III and Woldetensae.
“That [balance is] important,” Bennett said. “I’ve been part of teams when you can balance it out and that puts pressure on a defense. The ability for different guys to get hot and get it going was good.”
Hauser finished with eight rebounds, coming just short of his fourth double-double in ACC play, and Clark, Huff and freshman guard Reece Beekman combined for 16 of the Cavaliers’ 22 assists — far exceeding the team’s 13.2 assists per game average coming in to tonight.
With the win, Virginia moves to 5-0 in conference play and remains the only unbeaten team in the ACC after Louisville’s 72-78 loss to Miami Saturday night. The Cavaliers will look to keep the good times rolling Wednesday as they return to Charlottesville for a matchup against NC State. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on the ACC Network.