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Virginia basketball stalls late in 67-50 loss to Clemson

The Cavaliers’ offensive struggles were laid bare in the second half

<p>Sophomore guard Reece Beekman scored a career-high 20 points in Virginia's loss to Clemson Wednesday night.</p>

Sophomore guard Reece Beekman scored a career-high 20 points in Virginia's loss to Clemson Wednesday night.

After an 11-game winning streak versus Clemson, Virginia lost to the ACC foe 67-50 for the first time since 2013. The Cavaliers (7-5, 1-1 ACC) simply could not get anything going in the second half offensively, making just one field goal over a span of about 17 minutes. The Tigers (9-4, 1-1 ACC), meanwhile, did not have their best game, but a stout defensive effort — combined with timely Virginia turnovers — led to their victory. For the Cavaliers, senior forward Jayden Gardner and sophomore guard Reece Beekman carried the brunt of the offensive load, but the lack of help was simply too much for Virginia to overcome.

Gardner continued his hot streak against the Tigers, opening up the game with a tough fadeaway to begin the scoring. Unfortunately, Virginia’s recurring nightmare popped up again, as Clemson made its first three three-pointers of the game. The Cavaliers fought back, though, and a three-pointer from Gardner gave the home team a 10-9 lead at the first media timeout.

Senior forward Hunter Tyson kept Clemson rolling throughout the game, scoring eight of the team’s first 13 points and causing problems as a 6-foot-8 wing — a matchup Virginia has struggled with throughout the early part of the season. After an efficient start to the half, however, both teams’ offenses slowed down, grinding to a 15-15 tie with 10:29 to play.

On the Cavaliers’ side, Beekman was the star of the first half, scoring 14 points and, more importantly, hitting two three-pointers — a skill long thought of as essential in order to take the next step for the young guard. Beekman and Gardner supplied the bulk of the offense in the first half for Virginia, scoring 19 of the first 21 points and picking up the slack for the rest of the Cavaliers.

After a hard-fought, back-and-forth period, Clemson was able to break off a bit of a run for the first time in the game, opening up a 31-21 lead with 3:40 to play. The Tigers shot over 50 percent both from the field and beyond the arc, undoubtedly driving Coach Tony Bennett crazy. Virginia fought back to end the half, but Clemson would take a 35-27 lead going into the intermission. Only three players scored for the Cavaliers in the first half, with junior guard Armaan Franklin joining Beekman and Gardner.

It did seem, however, that Bennett has found his rotation for close games. After getting three of the four highest amounts of minutes outside of the starting five last Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson, sophomore guard Malachi Poindexter, freshman forward Igor Miličić, Jr. and junior center Francisco Caffaro were the only players not in the starting five to see minutes in the first half. While the eight players Bennett has decided to roll with certainly were not predicted at the beginning of the season, he believes they give the Cavaliers the best chance to win. 

Virginia started off the second half in a completely different gear than the first. Beekman hit his career-high in scoring, and senior guard Kihei Clark hit a three-pointer that closed the deficit to just two and forced Clemson to call a timeout with 17:24 to play. 

Turnovers continued to plague the Cavaliers, however, as the 10th of the night allowed the Tigers to push the lead back to five at the next commercial break. Although Virginia shot better than Clemson in all three phases of the game up to that point, the giveaways were what was the difference, as the Tigers ended up with 18 more shot attempts from the field in the game.

Virginia proceeded to go ice cold from the field as Clemson gradually increased its lead throughout the second half. Jump shots — which were the Cavaliers’ friend in the first half — suddenly could not find the net, and a scoring drought of 5:27 was finally broken by two free throws from Clark which brought the score to 44-37.

After Clemson pushed its lead to as large as 14, sophomore forward Kadin Shedrick scored his first points of the game, albeit from the line. The free throw stripe was one of the few strengths of the game for the Cavaliers, who shot 14-19 on foul shots. Free throws did not end the field goal drought, though, which Franklin mercifully brought to a close after over 11 minutes of game time. 

Somehow after the Franklin bucket, the Cavaliers found themselves down only 14, with the game still within relative striking distance. Tyson — who had been quiet since the first half — came back for Clemson with a big three-pointer to push the lead to 59-44 with 5:53 remaining in the game. The meager push by Virginia was too little too late, and Clemson coasted to the finish line to win 67-50.

Virginia has another long break before returning to action against Syracuse on New Year’s Day from the Carrier Dome. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network.

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