Virginia coach Tony Bennett was looking for a little more strength and a little more energy when he inserted freshman Justin Anderson into the starting lineup against Clemson in place of fellow freshman Evan Nolte, who has been prone to foul trouble and has been struggling with his shot.
Anderson made the move look brilliant Thursday night with 14 points, two assists, three steals and a highlight reel dunk on a night when everything went Virginia’s way. The Cavaliers led Clemson 38-10 at halftime and never let up in its record 13th consecutive victory at John Paul Jones Arena.
Anderson scored Virginia’s first basket with a finger-roll layup, later had a block on Jordan Roper and gave the fans the kind of play they have come to expect in the second half with a reverse alley-oop slam off a pass from Jontel Evans. On the next possession, he fed Nolte cross court for an open 3-pointer.
“That was a great bounce-back from going out there and losing to those guys,” Anderson said, referencing a 59-44 loss at Clemson on Jan. 12.
The Tigers (12-10, 4-6 ACC), who shot 77 percent in the second half of that game against the nation’s 10th-best field goal percentage defense (37.3 percent), had no such success on the Cavaliers’ home floor. Not until Devin Booker’s putback with 12:04 left made it 55-22 did they have more points than Harris.
In the rematch, Virginia’s Joe Harris scored 21 points and Akil Mitchell had 16.
The Cavaliers (16-6, 6-3) are 5-0 at home in the ACC for the first time since 2006-07.
“Those guys were not only really ready to play, but when they got off to the great start, they didn’t let up on the gas,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “They didn’t let up in any way on either end. We were clearly on our heels from the outset.”
Virginia has had a tendency to let leads slip away, and was coming off a loss at Georgia Tech in a game it led by nine in the second half before folding.
The Tigers’ 10-point half was the lowest against Virginia since Maryland did it in 1981, and Clemson became the eighth team to fail to score 20 points in a half against the Cavaliers this season. Virginia ranks third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 52 points, and the Tigers didn’t even get close.
K.J. McDaniels led the Tigers with 10 points while scoring leader Devin Booker had seven and Milton Jennings, who had a then-career best 21 in the victory in January, managed two on 1-for-7 shooting. Clemson shot 30.8 percent overall (16 of 52) and Virginia shot 55.6 percent (30 of 56).
The game was essentially over by halftime as Virginia used an early 12-0 run to open a 14-2 lead and then closed the half with a 15-0 burst.
Virginia made 10 of its last 15 attempts from behind the arc.
McDaniels opened the second half with a 3-pointer for Clemson, the only one the Tigers made in 17 tries, but Harris answered with one of his own shortly thereafter and the Cavaliers never let up.