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Feb 2, 2024 2:35 pm

Winning with defense, Virginia takes on Clemson

Contrasting styles of play will be on display Saturday when Virginia travels to Clemson for the 136th meeting between the Atlantic Coast Conference foes.

Per usual, Virginia (16-5, 7-3 ACC) is winning games on the defensive side of the court. The Cavaliers allow the second-fewest points per game (57.3) in NCAA Division I.

It’s an impressive figure, even for Virginia standards. It’s the fewest points the Cavaliers have allowed since the 2019-20 season, when they boasted the nation’s best scoring defense, at 52.4 points per game.

Winners of five straight games, Bennett’s team has given up more than 60 points just once in the stretch. The most recent victim was Notre Dame, as the Cavaliers stifled the Fighting Irish for a 65-53 victory on Wednesday.

“Why we’ve been a better team as of late is we’ve been better defensively,” Bennett said. “It helps a lot of things.”

On the offensive end, senior guard Reece Beekman leads the scoring with 13.3 points per game, while Isaac McKneely chips in 11.6.

Bennett and the Cavaliers now turn their attention to a Clemson team that shoots 47.4 percent from the field, good for third in the ACC.

“(Clemson’s) a mature, veteran-led team,” Bennett added. “It’ll be a different kind of game. That’s what makes the ACC what it is.”

For Clemson (14-6, 4-5), life in conference play has been a roller coaster. After starting the year 11-1, the Tigers have dropped five of eight games in 2024.

Clemson appeared to be on its way to a blowout victory against Louisville on Tuesday, holding a 24-point advantage with less than 13 minutes left.

Thanks to sloppy ball handling and shooting woes, Clemson saw the Cardinals trim its lead to four points with 29 seconds left before escaping with a 70-64 win.

“It was harder than I would have liked,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well and we were very slow starting the game. We had some very careless turnovers down the stretch and (Louisville) made some shots.”

Relieved to have avoided a crushing blow for its NCAA Tournament resume, the Tigers can bolster their odds with a win over Virginia at home — something they haven’t done since Jan. 12, 2013.

On the season, Clemson’s led by PJ Hall’s 19.9 points per game, followed by Joe Girard III at 14.8.

–Field Level Media

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