CLEMSON, S.C. — Two down, one to go.
Virginia got a contest-high 23 points from standout forward Jayden Gardner, another sealing 3-pointer from senior guard Kihei Clark and won its second straight on its three-game Atlantic Coast Conference road trip, downing Clemson 75-65 at Littlejohn Coliseum late Tuesday night.
Clark’s 3-pointer with 4:05 left extended the Cavaliers’ advantage to eight points — their largest lead since the first half — at 67-59 after the 16 previous minutes of the final half was tightly contested in a back-and-forth manner.
UVa began separating when guard Armaan Franklin sank back-to-back jumpers, one of the fadeaway variety. Then, forward Kadin Shedrick drilled a pair of free throws before Clark buried the 3 on the Cavaliers’ next possession.
“No matter what the box score says, Kihei Clark is our most valuable player,” Gardner said.
Added UVa coach Tony Bennett: “I’ve said this a lot, but [Clark is] our only guy who has more than a year of experience, so when it gets down to that time, plays need to be made and a big shot needs to be made.”
People are also reading…
This past Saturday at Syracuse, it was Clark’s long-range 3 that secured the Hoos a win at the Carrier Dome.
With the victory over Clemson, UVa (9-5, 3-1 ACC) also salvaged a split of the season series with the Tigers (9-5, 1-2 ACC), who won in Charlottesville two weeks ago.
The big difference this time around was the Cavaliers’ offense, which created ways to score close to the basket more efficiently than they did in the previous encounter to frustrate the loyal, but sleepy crowd of scattered orange spread across mostly empty purple seats.
“We adjusted some things from the last time we played them,” Bennett said. “We thought that [scoring in the paint] was important in terms of what we wanted to do. We made the adjustments and then guys executed well.”
UVa tallied 34 points in the paint against the Tigers in this second tilt compared to only 12 points in the paint it scored in the last meeting with Clemson.
Gardner was efficient throughout, finishing 7-of-11 from the field. His mid-range jumper was sharp early and he was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. He also had three layups.
“It was Coach saying, ‘Get back to who we are,’” Gardner, the transfer from East Carolina, said, “and addressing our strengths and what we’re good at, and we’re really good at attacking the ball in the paint. We were playing more inside-outside this game as opposed to last game, which was mainly outside. So, great adjustment by [Bennett] and we executed the game plan and we were cooking inside.”
Shedrick and guard Reece Beekman each had a dunk, and so did big man Francisco Caffaro. His lefty one-handed slam provided the Cavaliers a 56-54 narrow gain with nine minutes left.
Clemson didn’t fold after that, though, getting a 3 from forward PJ Hall, who was one of four Tigers to score in double figures, to go back in front.
UVa regained the lead for good on a pair of free throws from Gardner with 6:50 to go, but didn’t pull away until Clark’s 3-pointer.
There were 15 lead changes in the bout and the score was tied on 15 different occasions.
“Every game is a battle for us,” Bennett said. “We’re not going to overwhelm people, but at least the last two games, we walked into some stuff where we’ve forged a nice identity.”
The Cavaliers’ second-leading scorer was Franklin with 13. Beekman, Caffaro, Clark and Shedrick each had eight points.
Hall had 13 points, but Hunter Tyson led the Tigers with 15.
UVa held a first-half lead of eight points on the heels of a 14-4 run capped by Caffaro’s jumper to push the Cavs’ advantage to 34-26. As part of the surge, they got a 3 from Franklin, who has knocked down at least one shot from beyond the arc in each of the last four contests.
But the Hoos couldn’t sustain the edge largely built on the efficiency of Gardner. He was 6-of-7 from the field and had 13 of his points before halftime.
Clemson went on a 10-0 run of its own — capped by a 3 from Al-Amir Dawes — and took a 37-36 lead into the locker room. UVa went without a field goal for the final 4:33 of the opening stanza.
The Hoos will conclude their swing away from home on Saturday at North Carolina.