Virginia clobbers Clemson to advance to ACC tournament title game


GREENSBORO, N.C. — Chants of “U-V-A, U-V-A” reverberated throughout Greensboro Coliseum early in the second half Friday night, with supporters of the second-seeded Virginia men’s basketball team urging the Cavaliers to continue a decisive surge against No. 3 seed Clemson in the ACC tournament semifinals.

Forward Jayden Gardner was determined to oblige, collecting a lob pass from Kihei Clark and sinking a heavily contested reverse layup that grew the lead to 18 points on the way to a 76-56 triumph. The victory sent the Cavaliers to their 10th ACC tournament final, the past four under Coach Tony Bennett.

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Virginia (25-6) takes a four-game winning streak into Saturday night’s championship game against No. 4 seed Duke, which dispatched top seed Miami, 85-78, in the evening’s first semifinal. The Cavaliers will be seeking their fourth ACC tournament championship and third under Bennett.

“Excited to get to the finals. I think we’re at our best when we just sort of focus on quality, whether it’s a good practice, a good possession, and just all that [other] stuff will take care of itself,” Bennett said. “Duke’s playing very good basketball. I think our guys are too, so it’ll be for a conference tournament championship, and thankful obviously we got a share of the regular season, so it’s a great opportunity to just keep trying to play that quality.”

Gardner led the Cavaliers to a third consecutive victory over the Tigers (23-10) with 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting with 12 rebounds and two assists. Senior guard Armaan Franklin added 16 points, and Clark, a fifth-year guard, chipped in 13 points for Virginia’s 14th win in the teams’ past 15 meetings.

Gardner, a fifth-year forward and North Carolina native who transferred to Virginia from East Carolina, either scored or assisted on 10 points during a 14-0 run bridging the halves that delivered the knockout blow. The Cavaliers’ record against Clemson in the ACC tournament improved to 8-1.

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Virginia controlled the interior offensively, scoring 40 points in the paint and shooting 51 percent from the field overall. The Cavaliers committed six turnovers — making their 11th game in a row in the single digits — while stifling the typically high-scoring Tigers, who shot just 38 percent and committed a dozen turnovers.

“I think just our mentality to be aggressive tonight, to be assertive,” said Gardner. “Clemson’s a very physical team, and we were coached to try to meet their physicality tonight, and I think we did that.”

Clemson entered averaging 76.2 points, which ranks fourth in the ACC. Hunter Tyson paced the Tigers with 15 points, making 4 of 8 three-pointers, and Brevin Galloway added 12 points. PJ Hall, who came in tied for the team lead in scoring, finished with 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting.

An 8-0 run to close the first half pushed Virginia’s advantage to 37-35 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 4 of 5 field goals, all in the paint, during that span and held Clemson scoreless for the final four minutes after the Tigers had trimmed an eight-point deficit in half.

“I think the guys were taking care of the ball,” said Bennett. “They were cutting hard. Our screening has improved, and again, just they’re doing some things we don’t work on in practice. They’re just seeing things as the game presents itself, and that’s the best to me kind of basketball. You give them a structure, and they play the game out of it.”

Merrimack won its conference tournament. Its season ends there.

Freshman wing Ryan Dunn capped the half by chasing down Galloway and blocking his layup attempt from behind in a sequence that drew hearty applause from Virginia’s bench.

Here’s what else to know about Virginia’s win:

With starting forward Ben Vander Plas out for the season after suffering a fractured right hand during practice Wednesday, Bennett used a rotation of nine players, including a second consecutive start for 7-foot-1 Argentine forward-center Francisco Caffaro.

But Kadin Shedrick (eight points, seven rebounds) soon replaced Caffaro when the redshirt senior picked up an early foul. Shedrick shined in the quarterfinals Thursday night with a season-high five blocks to help spark a 68-59 win against seventh-seeded North Carolina.

Bennett also turned to reserve guard Taine Murray for valuable minutes in the first half. The sophomore from New Zealand almost immediately sank a three-pointer to give the Cavaliers a 22-15 lead with 8:42 to play in the first half. It was his second three-pointer this season.

The Cavaliers are aiming for two-game sweep of Duke when the teams meet Saturday, with tip-off set for 8:30 p.m. Virginia outlasted the Blue Devils in overtime, 69-62, during their regular season meeting Feb. 11 at John Paul Jones Arena.

The game went to overtime after officials overturned a foul call assessed to Virginia at the regulation buzzer, negating what could have been winning free throws for Duke freshman sensation Kyle Filipowski.

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