Brad Brownell was concerned that after Clemson’s extended layoff, his team wouldn’t be as sharp.
Unfortunately for Clemson’s head coach, his concerns held true. Clemson (9-5, 1-2 ACC) played well at times during the team’s 75-65 loss to Virginia on Tuesday but was unable to overcome a late scoring drought and several defensive lapses.
Scoring 65 points against one of the better defensive teams in the country is a feat in itself, but Clemson was unable to stifle Virginia’s offense like it did on Dec. 22, 2021. It’s not that Virginia made adjustments, they just had their way with Clemson in the paint.
“I thought we played pretty well for a long period of time in the game,” Brownell said, but defensively we weren’t quite tough enough to stop them and get the win.
Brownell wasn’t disappointed in his team at all. The Tigers had 17 assists and nine turnovers, but the Cavaliers just played better down the stretch than they did.
For 32 minutes, Clemson hung tough. Between 15 lead changes and a 1-point halftime lead, the Tigers were neck-and-neck with a very good Virginia team.
But a 1-point lead was never going to be enough to put away Tony Bennett’s squad. With the game tied at 57 with just under seven minutes, Clemson went cold.
Virginia went on an eventual 7-0 run that turned into an 18-8 stretch.
The Tigers experienced yet another scoring drought and Virginia’s hold of the game became insurmountable. Clemson was held without a field goal for over five minutes down the stretch and the defense had no answer for what Virginia was doing offensively.
“It just comes down to defense,” Brownell said. “Our defense wasn’t good enough tonight. You can’t give them 75. You’re not gonna beat Virginia when they score 75. That numbers gotta be in the low 60s and we just didn’t do a good job. Give their kids credit. They played very well, executed very well and made shots.”
Virginia shot 54.3 from the field and just a 28.6% clip from beyond the arc. ECU transfer Jayden Gardner scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 9-of-10 from the charity stripe.
None of the Cavaliers’ other scorers put up that level of efficiency, but Virginia did manage to score 34 of its 75 points in the paint.
At the end of the day, they just got more shots to fall than Clemson. It’s as simple as that sometimes.
After shooting 56% from the field in the first frame of action, Clemson shot just 36% in the second half.
“Virginia’s hard to score against,” Brownell said. “We beat ’em over there scoring 67, we scored 65 tonight. You got to guard better to beat these guys. If you get 65, that’s pretty good against them.”
Clemson’s shooting woes were amplified by Virginia taking away the team’s leading scorer. P.J. Hall had 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the first half, but Clemson’s sophomore forward finished the game with just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
“I thought they did a good job with P.J. I know they doubled him some,” Brownell added. “They were very physical with him. I thought this was a good experience for him. He’s gonna be a great player in this league. But, they made it hard on him.”
Clemson struggled to find its offensive footing without the offense being able to go through Hall. Even though the Tigers were still able to put up 65 points, Virginia still managed to exploit Clemson in that regard.
Down the stretch, the Tigers had just much as many answers offensively as they did defensively, which was not many.
After winning four straight games, Clemson dropped its first game in exactly a month. Now down to two losses in conference play, the Tigers will need to regroup before Saturday’s contest at N.C. State.