Clark’s Offensive Diversity Leads Cavaliers Past Hokies

Ken Cross

January 20, 2023 at 8:11 am.

Virginia Cavaliers guard Kihei Clark (0) shoots the ball as Virginia Tech Hokies forward Grant Basile (21) defends in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena. (Photo: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The experience and consistent offensive balance were at the forefront on Wednesday night as the Virginia Cavaliers handed the Virginia Tech Hokies their sixth consecutive loss, 78-68, in Charlottesville.

Point guard Kihei Clark scored 20 points and dished five assists as he led all five Cavaliers starters in double figures.

Clark has been a staple in the Virginia program for five seasons and his leadership is again a monumental quality in working to lead the Cavaliers forward in the ACC.

“He’s such a competitor,” explained Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. “He’s just like Ty (Jerome) when you look across the court, you see him, and then you think about the key that they are an important part of the fabric of this program in what’s taken place and hopefully what will continue.”

Jerome is now a role player for the Golden State Warriors as he, Warriors guard Jordan Poole, and Warriors superstar Stephen Curry sat courtside on Wednesday night for the game. Remember, Curry’s father Dell was a major scorer at Virginia Tech and in the NBA, most notably for the Charlotte Hornets.

However, Clark is in his fifth season at Virginia and will potentially be a role player at the NBA level. It’s easy to associate his characteristics with the leadership, potential and talent of an NFL quarterback. His intelligence rules the court whether he shoots a three-pointer, goes to the basket off the dribble drive or finds a teammate in the lane for an assist.

“He’s more explosive this year and he looks a little bigger and stronger,” said Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young.

Clark became the Cavaliers’ leader in career wins with his 111th, while he had his most explosive output of the season.

He was the anchor in a smaller Virginia lineup as he, Reece Beekman and Armaan Franklin logged from 33-36 minutes between them.

“The biggest thing with the small lineup is everyone gang rebounding, come back and rebound, and I think that’s what we have been doing,” explained Clark. “It’s just a tremendous job of guards coming back. For me, it’s guys just trusting me. I have been doing this for a while.”

Clark was a stalwart in setting Jayden Gardner and Ben Vander Plas up for their shots. Gardner made 5-of-6 field goals with 12 points in his 22 minutes while Vander Plas nailed two of his four field goals from the three-point area.

“With players, I have been playing with from my first year up until now, I mean, I have played with some great guys, so it means a lot to be in that conversation, of course,” Clark stated.

Clark’s dimension off the dribble allowed him to score on layups as a couple was reverse layups that allowed him to get by defenders. He had plenty of dimension on Wednesday as he hit two triples late in the game that was impactful on the separation for the Cavaliers.

Virginia Tech had cut the Virginia lead to 59-55 as Justyn Mutts scored on three possessions and he seemed to get himself untracked as he had struggled offensively until he made his first basket with 10:21 left in the game.

Clark then nailed a triple off the left wing to push the Virginia lead to 62-55 with 7:37 to play. He and Isaac McNeely then hit back-to-back triples to push the Cavaliers’ lead to 71-60 with 4:29 to play.

“A guy his size doesn’t get to where he is without having a fierce side to him as a competitor, and he wants to win and that’s what he has done most of his career,” Bennett explained.