GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)Virginia and Duke will meet again with the Atlantic Coast Conference championship at stake – and hopefully officiating won’t have as big an impact on the outcome this time around.
Jayden Gardner had 23 points and 12 rebounds and No. 13 Virginia beat Clemson 76-56 on Friday night, sending coach Tony Bennett’s team to the ACC title game for the first time since 2018, when the Cavaliers won it all.
Armaan Franklin scored 16 points and Kihei Clark added 13 for the Cavaliers, who shot 50% from the field while outscoring the Tigers 40-22 in the paint.
The second-seeded Cavaliers (25-6) will play fourth-seeded and No. 21 Duke at the Greensboro Coliseum on Saturday night. Virginia beat Duke 69-62 in overtime on Feb. 11, but ACC officials admitted a day later that a botched a call by officials at the end of regulation potentially cost the Blue Devils a win.
Duke has won eight straight since then and is looking like a dangerous NCAA Tournament team.
“I know they are defending well and running an efficient offense,” Bennett said. “They have very good players and are well-coached. Our game was a battle at our place. … We are going to have to play some good basketball.”
Added Gardner: “Duke has been trending in the right direction and it’s another challenge that we are going to have to answer and just meet their physicality.”
Hunter Tyson made four 3-pointers and scored 15 points, and P.J. Hall had 13 for Clemson (23-10), which is on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Virginia broke open a close game with an 8-0 run in the final 2:23 of the first half to build a 37-25 halftime lead, getting four points each from Franklin and Gardner during that stretch – with all of those points coming in the paint.
Before the start of the second half, Tyson gathered his Tigers teammates together on the court and gave an impassioned speech, imploring them to play harder.
But Clemson came up empty on its first five possessions of the second half while Virginia continued to pound away inside, opening an 18-point advantage and bringing the crowd to its feet with chants of “UVA! UVA!”
Clemson’s first field goal of the second half didn’t come until nearly four minutes in on a driving layup by Tyson, snapping a scoring drought of 7:49.
“Their offensive movement is very good and it’s taxing on you,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “If you are little fatigued, they can wear you down.”
Virginia stretched its lead to 52-29 behind a powerful two-handed dunk by Kadin Shedrick off a pick-and-roll feed from Reece Beekman, and the Tigers never challenged again.
“I think the guys are taking care of the ball, they are cutting hard and our screening has improved,” Bennett said. “They are seeing things as the game presents it. And that’s the best basketball to me when you give them a structure and they play the game out of it.”
Frustration began to mount a short while later, with Brownell getting a technical for shouting at the referees.
A RARE CHAMPIONSHIP
Virginia and Duke both have had plenty of success over the years, but they’ve only met once before in the ACC title game, with the Cavaliers winning 72-63 in 2014 behind MVP Joe Harris.
Clemson: The Tigers are a good team – better than a lot of people think – but questions remain over whether they’ve done enough to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Normally, a third place finish in the ACC regular season gets you into the Big Dance, but this is a down season for the ACC and with Duke, Miami and Virginia already locks to make it, the Tigers will have to sweat this one out on selection Sunday. “We will keep our fingers crossed,” Tyson said, adding he thinks the Tigers are clearly one of the nation’s top 68 teams.
Virginia: The Cavaliers have to be one of the most irritating teams to guard in the country. They are methodically precise with their offense, and if a team falls behind, it’s difficult to mount a run against them given their pace of play. This may not be Bennett’s best team, but the Cavs looked poised to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament behind a balanced scoring attack.
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