CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia's players were all smiles after the No. 2 Cavaliers' 61-36 victory over No. 18 Clemson, but for reasons generally considered uncommon among college basketball players. It was the Cavaliers' smothering defense, which fueled a 22-2 run and limited the Tigers to 13 second-half points, that had them grinning.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia's players were all smiles after the No. 2 Cavaliers' 61-36 victory over No. 18 Clemson, but for reasons generally considered uncommon among college basketball players.
It was the Cavaliers' smothering defense, which fueled a 22-2 run and limited the Tigers to 13 second-half points, that had them grinning.
"I think that was one of the best defensive halves I've been a part of," fifth-year senior Devon Hall said. "That was fun. I'm not going to lie. That was fun."
Coach Tony Bennett agreed, calling it "some of the best defense we've played."
"I thought they were just so active with their hands," Bennett said, "and everything was contested."
The Tigers committed a season-high 19 turnovers and Virginia had 14 steals while limiting the Tigers to 31.9 percent shooting. Virginia came in leading the nation in scoring defense and allowed its fewest points of the season.
As Virginia went on its decisive run, Ty Jerome could see the frustration building in the Tigers.
"A ton of frustration," he said. "They stopped running their offense."
Hall scored 14 points, Kyle Guy had 12 and Virginia (19-1, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its 11th in a row. The Cavs' start in conference play is their best since the Ralph Sampson-led 1980-81 team, which began 12-0.
Clemson led 23-16 before going scoreless in the final 6½ minutes of the first half and getting just six points in the first 14 minutes of the second half. Virginia's decisive burst stretched its lead from 30-27 early in the second to 52-29 with 6:48 remaining.
"When we're hitting on all cylinders, it's really fun to play defense like that," Guy said.
Gabe DeVoe scored 11 points, all in the first 12 minutes, and was the only player to score in double figures for the Tigers (16-4, 5-3).
Coach Brad Brownell saw his team fall victim to the same things a lot of teams encounter against Bennett's signature pack-line defense.
"We really tried to do too many 1-on-1 things in the second half and just got away from being who we are," he said.
Once Virginia started building its lead, the crowd became raucous, celebrating defensive stops as loudly as 3-pointers.
"When they have a lead like that, you're really in trouble," Brownell said. "When they can lock into you, it's hard to execute good offense, especially in this building because this building is a lot like Clemson football. We raise hell on third down."
Clemson: The Tigers played their first game since losing No. 2 scorer and rebounder Donte Grantham to a torn ACL suffered against Notre Dame, and after getting off to a fast start against Virginia, seemed to be lacking an offensive identity. Top scorer Marcquise Reed (16 points per game) managed only six in 33 minutes. He finished 3 for 10 from the field.
Virginia: The Cavaliers played without their best defender, Isaiah Wilkins, for most of the second half after he appeared to hit the floor hard while being fouled late in the first half. Wilkins didn't participate in warmups before the second half, but started and played only briefly. Bennett had no details on Wilkins' condition, but he added that Wilkins wanted to go back in the game but it didn't seem necessary.
Jack Salt didn't finish with big numbers — 6 points and 5 rebounds — but gave the Cavaliers a big lift in his 20 minutes.
He made one basket while being fouled, and scored on a dunk off a perfect bounce pass from Wilkins, each time riling up the crowd.
After halftime, Bennett said, the Cavaliers were slow to return to the court, in part because Salt was getting a split lip stitched.
Virginia outscored Clemson 25-8 off turnovers and 28-16 in the paint. The Cavaliers also won the rebounding battle 35-28.
Clemson heads to Georgia Tech for a game Sunday.
Virginia faces its toughest test to date, playing at No. 4 Duke on Saturday night.