Virginia's Mike Tobey may have been sidelined by mono but it was the Clemson Tigers that looked half sleep on Thursday night in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers, in stark contrast, were locked in all night long in a 78-41 romp, the largest margin of victory for the Hoos in the regular season since 1981.
Led by juniors Joe Harris (game-high 21 points) and Akil Mitchell (16 points and team-high 6 boards), the Cavaliers blistered the visitors from South Carolina. Freshman Justin Anderson, in his first ACC start, scored 14 and wowed the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena, first with an over-the-shoulder, no-look assist to Mitchell for a dunk and then an acrobatic reverse alley oop from Jontel Evans.
The 10 points Clemson scored in the first half? Fewest points allowed by a Virginia team since Jan. 14, 1981. The Tigers had just one player, K.J. McDaniels, in double-figures and posted 19 turnovers to just 4 assists.
"They really played so well together," fourth-year head coach Tony Bennett said of his Cavaliers. "The ball moved. There were good cuts at the rim. Obviously, we shot it well. All of that really came together nicely."
UVa (16-6, 6-3 ACC) began the game on a 14-2 run over the first eight minutes of action. By halftime the Wahoos had found their aim from beyond the 3-point arc, making three in a row, and led 38-10.
In fact, Harris had more points than Clemson (12-10, 4-6) as a team until the 12:07 mark in the second half. By that point, Virginia was up 52-22 and the only things left to determine were the margin of victory and what walk ons might score.
"One of them, certainly," Bennett said when asked if this was his team's most complete game. "We got off to a big lead and Clemson was certainly out of sorts. That was probably our most unselfish game we've played all year."
Said Clemson coach Brad Brownell, "Those guys were not only ready to play but when they got off to the great start, they didn't let up at all on either end. They didn't relax defensively at all, their offense was very crisp, ball movement was great, and we were clearly on our heels from the onset."
Harris, who was 7 of 10 from the field including 2 of 4 from deep, said that defensively he thought his team did a great job overall and that things took off from there.
"We had a couple of practices where we were preparing and we changed some things up we saw on film from the last game," Harris explained. "We tried to make it a little bit difficult for them on post entries. I thought we did a really good job of executing and sticking to the game plan."
Last month, following a 55-52 loss at Wake Forest, Virginia went to Clemson and struggled, losing 59-44. That loss brought on a four-game winning streak that was snapped at Georgia Tech on Sunday. Bouncing back, apparently, is made easier when you're also avenging an earlier loss.
Though Virginia only scored 44 in that January 12 defeat in Littlejohn Coliseum, the Cavaliers did that on Thursday with 17:17 left to play.
"We watched a lot of film from the last game and they got into the paint way too easy last game," Mitchell said, adding that matching up with Devin Booker was a tough challenge because he's a "big, physical guy and if it came down to it, I was going to play 40 minutes tonight."
Those watching may have noticed an extra edge to Mitchell's game, which he attributed to some shady tactics from Milton Jennings in the first contest.
"That's a little hangover from the last game," Mitchell said of the chippiness on the court. "Little unfinished business. There were some dirty things going on the last game between me and Milton Jennings, more so him. I just don't respect the way that he plays. I had a few things to say to him."
While Jennings and Booker combined for 36 points and 20 rebounds last month, they put up just 9 points and 12 boards in this one.
In the end, this was a game that Clemson was barely in. Virginia got 8 assists from Evans and no turnovers, amassed a 23-7 advantage off of Tiger turnovers, and help the visiting squad to 30.8 percent shooting from the field.
"We kind of smelled blood in the water," Mitchell said. "And that's when you just keep attacking, keep being sound defensively and getting stops."
"It was a bounce-back win," Anderson added. "I think we really came together and we were really tough tonight. That was a great collective team win."
Anderson, a one-time Maryland commitment, heads to College Park this Sunday for UVa's first of two games this season against the Terps (1 p.m., ACC Network). It appears the Wahoos will be without Tobey and fellow post player Darion Atkins, who Bennett said still isn't ready to return from a shin injury.