Virginia beats Clemson to advance to ACC Tournament title game


GREENSBORO, NC — Chants of “UVA, UVA” echoed throughout the Greensboro Coliseum early in the second half of Friday night, and supporters of the second-ranked Virginia men’s basketball team urged the Cavaliers to stage a crucial surge against No. 3 seed Clemson to continue in semi-finals of the ACC tournament.

Forward Jayden Gardner was determined to match, collecting a lobed pass from Kihei Clark and sinking a hard-fought reverse layup that extended the lead to 18 points en route to a 76-56 triumph. The win sent the Cavaliers into their 10th ACC Tournament Finals, the last four under Coach Tony Bennett.

Virginia (25-6) brings a four-game winning streak into Saturday night’s championship game against fourth-seeded Duke, who defeated top-seeded Miami 85-78 in the first semifinal of the night. The Cavaliers will be seeking their fourth ACC tournament championship and third under Bennett.

“Excited to get to the final. I think we’re at our best when we just focus on quality, whether it’s good training, good possession and all that [other] That stuff will take care of itself,” Bennett said. “Duke plays very good basketball. I think our boys do too so it’s going to be for a conference tournament championship and grateful that we obviously have a stake in the regular season so it’s a great opportunity to just keep trying to play that quality.”

Gardner led the Cavaliers to a third straight win 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, contributed 13 points for Virginia’s 14th win in the teams’ last 15 meetings.

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

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

Clemson averaged 76.2 points, which ranks fourth in the ACC. Hunter Tyson led the Tigers by 15 points and made 4 from 8 three-pointers and Brevin Galloway added 12 points. PJ Hall, tied for the team lead, finished with 13 points in 4-on-13 shooting.

An 8-0 run to wrap up the first half increased Virginia’s lead to 37-35 at halftime. The Cavaliers scored 4 of 5 field goals during that span, all in paint, and kept Clemson scoreless in the final four minutes after the Tigers cut an eight-point deficit in half.

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

Here’s what else you should know about Virginia’s win:

With starting forward Ben Vander Plas out for the season after sustaining a broken right hand in Wednesday’s practice, Bennett deployed a nine-player rotation, including a second straight start for the 7-foot-1 Argentina forward Center Francisco Caffaro.

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

Bennett also turned to substitute Taine Murray for valuable minutes in the first half. The sophomore New Zealander almost immediately sank a three-pointer to put the Cavaliers 8-42 first-half lead 22-15. It was his second three of the season.

The Cavaliers are aiming to win Duke in two games when the teams meet on Saturday, with the pick scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Virginia outlived the Blue Devils in overtime, 69-62, during their regular season meeting on February 11 at John Paul Jones Arena.

The game went into overtime after officials picked up a foul call on Virginia on the regular buzzer, negating what could have been free-throw wins for Duke freshman sensation Kyle Filipowski. Virginia beats Clemson to advance to ACC Tournament title game

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