Cavaliers Shade Clemson Behind Another Defensive Jewel

Ken Cross

March 03, 2023 at 8:29 am.

Home-court advantage may be at its highest peak over the last five years in college basketball. Virginia’s 64-57 win over Clemson on Tuesday evening proved as much.

According to a study from Samford University which appeared on 247 Sports last week, the winning percentages of home teams in college basketball have not fallen below 64 percent in the last five seasons and it peaked at 69 percent in 2017-18.

Clemson and Virginia have both underlined that topic as the Tigers came into Virginia averaging 93.6 points per game in their last three wins.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers had only one loss at home this season and that was to the talented Houston Cougars, who have been No. 1 three times as they were during their 69-61 win over the Cavs back in December.

Virginia has always been noted as a consummate defensive system under coach Tony Bennett as the Cavaliers showed in holding the Tigers to just 57 points

Consistent offense has been tough for the Cavaliers all season as they are 14th in the ACC, averaging 66.3 points per game while shooting 43.1 percent (14th/ACC).

Once again the defense is the team’s token as Virginia leads the league in holding opponents to 61.7 percent from the field in ACC play. The Cavaliers also are in the top three in 10 of 21 defensive categories.

“We tried to move hard and work hard offensively,” explained Bennett. “We weren’t going to score 90 against Clemson. They’re playing terrific ball. We just had to do what we had to do to the best of our abilities and trust that and that’s what I thought the guys did.”

Bennett and his team saw talented freshman players in Ryan Dunn and Isaac McNeely both score double figures and help key the win.

Dunn is a prototypical athlete and feels like an offensive-oriented talent who can score in many ways if he is given more time on the floor or if he earns more than 12 minutes per game which he has averaged all season.

It took Dunn to actually break the scoreboard for the Cavaliers as he scored on a layup off an alley-oop from Reece Beekman with 15:10 remaining in the first half.

“I thought the first couple of minutes, we were getting great shots throughout the whole game, but they just weren’t falling,” commented Dunn. “Once I got that block, I started to run. I don’t think I needed to spark my team. The shots were going to fall and they fell throughout the game.”

Dunn finished by going 3-for-3 from the floor as he scored 10 points and pulled down five rebounds in 18 minutes.

Isaac McNeely, who is known for his ability to shoot from the outside, carried the Cavaliers with eight of his 12 points as he made a reverse layup and a free throw to give Virginia a 49-36 lead with 9:21 to play.

“Clemson was going to be physical on our screens and try to bump us off our cuts,” said McNeely. “We had to just cut hard and we worked hard the last couple of days on ‘Sides’.

The Cavaliers shot only 40.7 percent from the floor while holding the Tigers to 41.8 percent. The key was getting to the free throw line where Virginia made 15-of-22 and Clemson was only 4-of-5.

While the younger players were as fortified with consistency on offense, Armaan Franklin and Jayden Gardner had strong outings when their offensive approach was needed.

Franklin had a couple of field goals late in the first half as the Cavaliers led 28-23 at the break. Franklin hit a three off the left wing and scored inside the key for the 41-27 lead with 12:46 remaining in the game.

Gardner scored six of his 12 points deep into the second half as he gave Virginia a 57-45 lead on a 17-footer with 3:35 remaining.

“We just saw good tough movement, good tough screens, getting different kinds of looks and we had the way I think for this type of game, we needed to play,” noted Bennett.