In another close game for No. 13 Virginia, Malcolm Brogdon grabbed a long rebound, turned and saw Anthony Gill streaking down the court ahead of the pack, fed him and saw the senior forward deliver a crowd-pleasing dunk that gave the Cavaliers breathing room.
“My first thing I was thinking was, ‘What’s he doing way down there?’ ” Brogdon said, laughing.
That laughter has been hard to come by for the Cavaliers of late. They had lost three of four before outlasting Clemson 69-62 on Tuesday night, and once again had moments where they struggled to play the rugged defense that has been their trademark under coach Tony Bennett.
Bennett said there’s still work to do, but added: “We got a little closer back to how we have to play.”
Brogdon did too, especially after going 4 for 17 from the field in a loss at Florida State, earning a talking to from his coach.
“He got on me a little bit about forcing some shots,” Brogdon said after making 7 of 11 shots and scoring 20 points.
Gill added 12 points and had two big baskets, including the dunk, after Virginia squandered most of a 13-point lead. Devon Hall added 11 points and Isiah Wilkins had 10, the last two on another dunk with 14.7 seconds remaining and the Tigers trailing just 65-62.
After the recent struggles, Wilkins said, things felt almost normal again.
“I felt like we were playing as a team again. We were really gelling,” he said. “… We just had this vibe that we were going to get it done.”
The Cavaliers (14-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) led 52-39 after a 17-4 run with 9 minutes left, then saw the Tigers close within 55-53 with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining. But Gill scored on a putback after a miss by Brogdon, then took the long feed from Brogdon moments later for a fast-break dunk that built the margin back up to 59-53.
The Tigers (12-7, 5-2), seeking their sixth consecutive victory and fourth straight over a ranked team, got back within 62-59 on a 3-pointer by Jordan Roper and three free throws by Jaron Blossomgame with 1:36 to play, but Brogdon made two free throws with 30.7 seconds for the Cavaliers.
“With 3 minutes to go, 2 minutes to go, it’s a one-possession game,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “We were right there. We couldn’t quite get over the hump.”
Clemson allowed Virginia to shoot 54.3 percent (25 of 46) and was outrebounded 32-21.
Blossomgame made four 3-pointers and scored 23 points for the Tigers and Landry Nnoko added 15
The game was tied at 35 until Brogdon scored on a driving bank shot with 16 minutes to play. The shot sparked a 17-4 run that gave Virginia a 52-39 lead and twice brought the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena to its feet.
Devon Hall scored five points in the burst and Brogdon, Mike Tobey and Wilkins each had four, with the crowd especially appreciating a one-handed dunk by Tobey off a slick feed from Wilkins that pushed the lead to 50-39.
Virginia outscored Clemson 13-8 over the last 7 minutes of the first half and led 31-28.
FREE THROW WOES
Virginia outscored the Tigers 15-6 from the free throw line, making 15 of 22 while the Tigers were 6 for 6. The big mystery for Virginia was London Perrantes, who came into the game having missed just 5 of 37 attempts (86.5 percent) and missed 5 of 7 on the night.
Seven-footer Tobey finished with six points, six rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 20 minutes and displayed a little more aggressiveness around the basket than normal, especially when throwing down the dunk to give the Cavaliers a 50-39 lead.
Virginia will need more of that going forward, Bennett said.
“This is a big boy league,” he said. “This isn’t a tip-toe league.”
Clemson: The Tigers arrived as the first ACC team to win three straight against ranked teams since Wake Forest in 2002-03. … The Tigers were seeking their first victory in Charlottesville since the 2007-08 season.
Virginia: Perrantes leads the ACC is 3-point shooting at 56.5 percent (35 of 62) but attempted just one in the first half, and it missed. It was his only attempt from long range of the night.
Clemson hosts to Pittsburgh next Wednesday.
Virginia hosts Syracuse on Saturday.
No. 13 VIRGINIA 69, CLEMSON 62
Blossomgame 8-15 3-3 23, Grantham 3-8 0-0 8, Nnoko 7-9 1-1 15, Holmes 1-7 2-2 4, Roper 2-6 0-0 5, DeVoe 3-6 0-0 7, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Djitte 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-53 6-6 62.
Gill 4-9 4-5 12, Salt 1-2 0-0 2, Hall 3-5 3-4 11, Brogdon 7-11 4-4 20, Perrantes 2-6 2-7 6, Tobey 3-4 0-0 6, Nolte 0-0 0-0 0, Wilkins 4-7 2-2 10, Reuter 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-46 15-22 69.
Halftime—Virginia 31-28. 3-Point Goals—Clemson 8-24 (Blossomgame 4-6, Grantham 2-5, Roper 1-3, DeVoe 1-4, Holmes 0-6), Virginia 4-7 (Brogdon 2-2, Hall 2-3, Perrantes 0-1, Thompson 0-1). Fouled Out—Nnoko. Rebounds—Clemson 21 (Blossomgame 6), Virginia 32 (Perrantes, Tobey 6). Assists—Clemson 9 (Roper 3), Virginia 14 (Brogdon, Perrantes 4). Total Fouls—Clemson 18, Virginia 11. A—14,398.