RALEIGH — Virginia stands alone.
The only ACC team in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament is the conference champion. The Cavaliers, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, dispatched eighth-seeded Memphis in a rather routine 78-60 victory Sunday night.
It’s the Cavaliers’ first appearance in the Round of 16 since 1995 and the second for coach Tony Bennett since 2008, when he was at Washington State.
Virginia (30-6) will face fourth-seeded Michigan State on Friday night in the regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Senior Joe Harris (16 points) and Virginia’s usual immalleable defense made sure the ACC would have one team still alive. The Cavaliers treated Memphis, from the American Athletic Conference, like they did most ACC teams, bludgeoning them for their 15th double-digit win in the past 23 games.
“It’s great to be the only ACC team left, or not really,” junior forward Anthony Gill said. “I wish they would have kept winning for the ACC but they didn’t so we’re going to have to carry it the rest of the way.”
There wasn’t much Virginia didn’t do right. The Cavaliers shot 55.6 percent (30 of 54), outrebounded Memphis 40-28 and their fans packed PNC Arena to boot. The second half basically was one long curtain call for the Cavaliers.
It was the only thing area ACC fans had to cheer this weekend. About two hours before Virginia and Memphis tipped off in the second game in Raleigh, North Carolina was the fifth ACC team eliminated from the tournament. The Tar Heels lost 85-83 to Iowa State in the Round of 32. Pittsburgh and Syracuse lost Saturday in the same round. N.C. State and Duke were eliminated in the Round of 64.
It’s the fourth time in eight years the ACC has had just one team in the Sweet 16 and the first time since 1979 there isn’t an ACC team from the state of North Carolina.
“That’s rough, you’d like to see a little more strength out of the conference,” senior Akil Mitchell said. “It’s also nice to represent and do the best we can.”
The ACC is 6-5 in the NCAA tournament and Virginia is responsible for a third of the wins. Sunday’s win against the Tigers (23-10) was the complete opposite of Friday’s struggle with 16th-seeded Coastal Carolina.
Virginia trailed Coastal Carolina by as many as 10 during the first half, five at the half and the score was tied after 11 minutes of the second half.
The Cavaliers took control of the Tigers near the end of the first half with a sequence that was perfectly Virginia. Harris made a 3, Gill blocked a shot at the other end and London Perrantes buried a 3 to cause Memphis coach Josh Pastner call a timeout with 5 minutes, 3 seconds left in the half and with Virginia ahead 27-18.
It only got worse from there for the Tigers, who made just 26.7 percent (eight of 30) of their shots in the first half. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, made 14 of 25 shots (56 percent) and kept the Tigers from turning the game into a track meet.
By the time Gill tipped in a Harris miss before the end of the first half, the sizable throng of Virginia fans who nearly filled up PNC Arena roared with approval.
Sunday’s win gave Virginia 30 for the season, which tied the 1981-82 team for the school record. The Cavaliers will get a chance to break that Friday and carry the ACC flag to New York.