Jan. 20, 2016

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Isaiah Wilkins supplied the exclamation point Tuesday night, an emphatic dunk with 14.7 seconds to play that brought fans to their feet at John Paul Jones Arena and secured a much-needed victory for Virginia over one of the ACC’s hottest men’s basketball teams.

Another test awaits the 13th-ranked Cavaliers on Saturday, when Syracuse visits JPJ, and they’ll enter that game with added confidence after ending Clemson’s five-game winning streak.

For UVA (14-4 overall, 3-3 ACC), the 69-62 victory over the Tigers (12-7, 5-2) came about 48 hours after a disheartening loss at Florida State.

“I think everybody had the same mindset tonight, which was awesome for us,” said forward Anthony Gill, who had 12 points and five rebounds against Clemson.

Wilkins said: “It felt like we were playing as a team again. We were really gelling. [The Tigers] hit a lot of tough shots, and they have really good players, but in my opinion we just had this vibe that we were going to get it done today, and it paid off.”

Against FSU, Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon missed 13 of 17 shots from the floor. Against Clemson, the 6-5 fifth-year senior exemplified efficiency. Brogdon was 7 for 11 from the floor and finished with 20 points, four assists and three rebounds in 35 minutes.

After the loss in Tallahassee, Brogdon said Tuesday night, head coach Tony Bennett “got on me a little bit about forcing some shots, and I tried to respond well to it and play better with my teammates.”

Bennett said he “challenged the team to try to just trust each other, let it come, [to] try to wear down the defense with our offense, and I thought Malcolm did an exceptional job today. It always looks good when you make shots, but he rarely [forced anything]. He was aggressive when he needed to, and we need him to score.

“It just was a nice pace, a good feel. He has a lot of [defenders] tagging him and doubling him and stacking it on him, so I thought he did a nice job of making the next pass and then looking [for shots] when he needed to look.”

In many games this season, three players — Brogdon, Gill and junior point guard London Perrantes — have provided the bulk of Virginia’s scoring. Their teammates provided more offensive support on a night when Perrantes, battling illness, missed 5 of 7 free throws and scored only six points.

Wilkins, a 6-7 sophomore, scored a career-best 10 points in 23 minutes off the bench, and Devon Hall, a 6-5 redshirt sophomore who made his second straight start, scored 11 points, his high in an ACC game. Mike Tobey, a 7-0 senior, contributed six points, six rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals in 20 minutes.

“The balance was important,” Bennett said.

Wilkins and Hall “stepped up tonight,” Perrantes said. “Devon played extremely well. He got other people involved, knocked down open [3-pointers] and got to the paint. He’s capable of doing that. Isaiah played good defense. It’s just a matter of consistency in order for us to be successful.”

Hall said his start against FSU gave him more confidence, “but I trust everybody on the floor and everybody on the team. So those guys have got trust in me, so I’ve got trust in them.

“If it’s me having to play four minutes, I’m going to play hard. If it’s me playing 25 minutes, I’m going to play hard each and every possession.”

Before the game, there was a moment of silence at JPJ in memory of former UVA great Buzzy Wilkinson, who died Friday at the age of 83. Wilkinson, whose number (14) is retired at Virginia, averaged 28.6 points during his career, still a school and ACC record.

As expected, little separated UVA and Clemson for much of the game. The Wahoos led by three at halftime, but the Tigers, led by redshirt junior forward Jaron Blossomgame (23 points) pulled even at 35-35 with 16:09 remaining.

Brogdon banked in a shot to put the `Hoos back on top, and by the 8:40 mark they had stretched their lead to 13. But Clemson rallied again, pulling to 55-53 with 3:37 to play.

Gill ended the Tigers’ run with a stickback that made it 57-53. Then, after Clemson guard Gabe DeVoe missed a long 3-point attempt, Gill raced up the court after seeing Brogdon corral the rebound.

Brogdon looked up and, to his surprise, saw Gill ahead of him.

“I was thinking, `What is he doing way down there? I’m not supposed to be in here rebounding, and he’s down court leaking out,’ ” Brogdon told reporters with a smile. “But I saw him and I knew he wanted to dunk, so I threw it ahead and he had a nice dunk.”

Gill laughed when asked about the play.

“I don’t even know what happened,” he said. “I saw that we had the rebound, and I was at the 3-point line boxing out my man. I saw nobody was in front of me, so I just sprinted the court and luckily [Brogdon] found me. It was good to get easy points.”

Gill’s dunk made it 59-53 with 2:47 to play. Clemson twice cut its deficit to three points in the final 2:20, but with their fans in full voice, the Cavaliers were able to raise their record at JPJ to 9-0 this season.

“It got really loud in here today,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

Gill said: “I think the home-court advantage really helped us out today. Our fans are awesome. They get us through a lot of situations where we’re going through those little dry spells, and they can kind of keep us in the game.”

On a night when they shot a torrid 54.3 percent from the floor, the `Hoos were far from flawless on defense. Still, they were better at that end than in their previous two games, a win over Miami at JPJ and the loss at FSU.

“We got closer,” Bennett said. “You can see why Blossomgame was the reigning player of the week in the ACC — he’s very talented — and why they’ve won some games. But I thought our guys responded well and tightened up defensively. We’ll take it. … To come back home, play a good team, and come away [with a win], I’m thankful for that.”

For a program whose trademark has been stifling halfcourt defense, this has been an unusual season. Opponents are shooting 42.8 percent from the floor against the `Hoos and averaging 61.2 points per game.

“I’ve never been on a Virginia team where we’ve struggled to get stops and our defense has been questioned,” Brogdon said. “But that comes with the territory … Every season is going to be different, and we have to realize that. And this season’s been different. We’ve had more roller coasters at the beginning of the season, with high expectations, but we’re not a team that listens to the expectations from the outside. We sort of, as Coach Bennett says, put the blinders on and just focus on what we’ve got to do and the goal ahead. I think we’re righting the ship, and I think we’re getting back on track now.”

Bennett said: “We’ve got to be the best we can be. Whatever our line is for potential, we’ve got to get to that potential, and where that takes us, it takes us.”

UP NEXT: Virginia is back at JPJ on Saturday for a noon game against ACC foe Syracuse (13-7, 3-4). It will be shown on ESPN.

The Orange upset Duke 64-62 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night. UVA is 2-0 against Syracuse since the teams became ACC rivals.

University officials are closely monitoring the developing storm that’s expected to affect the Charlottesville area Friday and Saturday. For now, no changes have been made to the schedule for Saturday’s game. UVA will provide information about the game as it becomes available, on social media, VirginiaSports.com and local media outlets.

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