Clemson guard Marcquise Reed knifed his way through traffic, scored and was fouled early during the second half of Saturday’s game against No. 4 Virginia, and the Cavaliers’ once 12-point first-half lead was down to 2.
The crowd was into the game, the Tigers were on a 10-2 run, and Clemson appeared on the cusp of earning its biggest win of the season and one of the biggest under Brad Brownell.
Instead, the final 17 minutes of action couldn’t have gone much worse for the Tigers. Virginia outscored Clemson 34-16 the rest of the way as the Cavaliers cruised to a 63-43 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Virginia improved to 15-0 (3-0) with the victory, while the Tigers dropped to 10-6 (0-3) with the loss.
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“We obviously cut it to 2, had a chance despite our shooting woes, and then unfortunately we just never made it,” Brownell said. “Eventually you’ve gotta make shots, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Virginia is known for its defense and the Cavaliers certainly bothered Clemson all afternoon.
The Tigers shot 26 percent from the field and 16 percent from the 3-point line. Reed led Clemson with 14 points, but he made only 3 of his 14 field goal attempts.
Reed also had a few big misses from the free-throw line, including one that would have cut Virginia’s lead to 1 early in the second half.
“Obviously our best player, who’s a 90-percent free throw shooter, missed three free throws, and he missed that one. It was almost telling,” Brownell said.
Elijah Thomas added eight points and 12 rebounds for the Tigers, while David Skara pitched in with nine points and six boards. No other player had more than five points for Clemson.
There was a big crowd on hand as Clemson celebrated its national championship football team with a parade and stadium celebration Saturday morning, but the Tigers had a hard time keeping the energy up in the building.
“You have to score to keep the crowd going. Our crowd wanted to help us so much... But it’s hard to cheer for defense,” Brownell said. “If you just keep getting stops then people kind of get to the edge of their seats but then you need a dunk. You need an open 3. They need something to go in to get them to really go, and we could just never get them to do that.”
Virginia was led by Kyle Guy, who scored all 13 of his points in the first half. De’Andre Hunter added 12 points for the Cavaliers, while Jay Huff also finished in double figures with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Despite an 0-3 start in the ACC, Brownell is encouraged with the way his team has played as of late, and after tough games at Duke, at Syracuse and against Virginia, the Tigers host 9-6 Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
“I thought our guys really, really competed. Just super proud of the way our team hung in there and fought,” Brownell said. “It’s a long, hard year in the ACC and you’re going to go through stretches where you play great teams and you just try to keep the morale of your team up, keep guys fighting.”