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Jan. 14, 2017

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CLEMSON, S.C. — First there was Mike Scott, followed by such players as Akil Mitchell, Darion Atkins, Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, big men who gave University of Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett excellent offensive options in the paint.

Bennett’s latest team is constructed differently. The large majority of the Cavaliers’ scoring comes from perimeter players, a group that includes senior London Perrantes, redshirt juniors Devon Hall and Darius Thompson, junior Marial Shayok and freshman Kyle Guy.

“It’s an unconventional team that way, and we’ve not been in that spot [before this season],” Bennett said. “But it’s really stretching us and causing us to look at different ways to defend, to score.”

In an ACC game Saturday afternoon at Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson outscored No. 19 Virginia 42-18 in the paint. That’s the most points the Wahoos have given up inside this season. They prevailed anyway, thanks in large part to the contributions of Perrantes and a supporting cast led by Shayok.

The 6-2 Perrantes scored a season-high 25 points, six days after putting up 24 in a win over Wake Forest at John Paul Jones Arena.

“He took us home,” Shayok said after the Cavaliers’ 77-73 win over the Tigers.

“What a game he had,” Bennett said of Perrantes, the only senior among Virginia’s scholarship players.

After a three-point play by Clemson star Jaron Blossomgame tied the game at 70-70 with 2:18 to play, Perrantes took a pass from Thompson and buried a corner trey to put the `Hoos back on top.

Then, after back-to-back stops by UVA (13-3, 3-2), the right-handed Perrantes scored on an acrobatic left-handed layup. That made it a five-point game with 43 seconds remaining.

“He’s clutch, man,” said Virginia junior forward Isaiah Wilkins, who matched his career high with 13 rebounds. “It’s unbelievable. Sometimes I find myself watching him and I might be late getting back on defense. But that dude’s amazing.”

Shayok sparkled, too, in Virginia’s sixth consecutive win over Clemson. In his second straight start, the 6-5 junior matched his career high (17 points) for the second game in a row.

“I just try to start it off the right way and be aggressive and play as hard as I can,” Shayok said.

Perrantes is a better outside shooter, but Shayok is the Cavaliers’ best at creating shots inside the 3-point arc. He sank 8 of 14 shots from the floor Saturday — only one of his field goals was a trey — and continually bedeviled the Tigers with his ability to dribble and then rise for midrange jump shots.

“Why are you so good?” a frustrated fan in Clemson’s student section screamed after another pull-up jumper by Shayok put Virginia ahead 55-51 with 11:28 to play.

Shayok is “creative at creating space and rising up,” Bennett said, “and he’s got a scorer’s mentality … To have a guy that can make some plays off the bounce and spread the defense a little bit is a nice option when you can’t feed the meter inside.”

Perimeter players accounted for 86 percent of Virginia’s points Saturday. Wilkins (eight) was the only UVA post player with more than two points. But Hall, who was limited to 20 minutes because of foul trouble, scored nine, the last two coming on free throws with 18.7 seconds left. Thompson had seven points and Guy added six.

Led by Perrantes, who was 4 for 8 from beyond the arc, the Cavaliers hit 10 treys Saturday, their most since they totaled 14 in a Nov. 22 win over Grambling State at JPJ. Overall, they connected on 58 percent of their field-goal attempts against a Clemson team that had played — and lost — Thursday night to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“They say shooting covers a multitude of sins,” Bennett said.

Indeed, the Cavaliers were far from flawless Saturday. They finished with 16 turnovers, several of which came on sloppy inbounds passes, and the Tigers (11-6, 1-4) turned those mistakes into 23 points. Clemson finished with 10 fast-break points, also the most UVA has allowed this season, and shot 50 percent from the floor.

“We turned the ball over a lot, and that gave them a lot of transition [points],” Wilkins said, “but we fought and we came up with the W.”

In practices leading up to the game, Bennett emphasized rebounding, and Virginia won that battle 30-25. Wilkins led the way, and Shayok contributed a career-best seven boards on an afternoon when UVA used four-guard lineups extensively.

“I’m very thankful,” Bennett said. “I really am. That was a hard-fought game, with a lot of mistakes, but we overcame.”

In the final 20 minutes, the `Hoos outrebounded the Tigers 19-9.

“We needed every possession, and obviously [UVA’s rebounding] was better in the second half,” Bennett said. “But defensively we’ve got a ton of room for improvement. It’s just not where it needs to be, but there are stretches where it’s good enough.”

Blosssomgame, a 6-7, 220-pound graduate student, scored 22 points to lead Clemson, which has dropped four games in a row since defeating Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve. Also in double figures for the Tigers were guard Avry Holmes and Gabe DeVoe, who scored 15 points each.

“It was a good offensive game, I feel like, from both sides,” Perrantes said, “and it just came down to who made more plays at the end.”

On Saturday, that was the team that had Perrantes, who played the entire second half. In a recent meeting, Bennett encouraged him to be more assertive offensively, and Perrantes, a four-year starter, has responded with a string of exceptional performances.

“We haven’t been able to, in certain games, make plays down the stretch,” Bennett said at Littlejohn Coliseum. “Plays were made today, and I thought London was quite a player. I thought he was offensively at times just special, the way he was making tough shots and good decisions.”

Perrantes said he’s “just playing with a lot of confidence and playing free right now.”

His step-back 3-pointer was especially effective Saturday.

“He hit some big shots,” Shayok said of Perrantes. “He showed his leadership today. That was huge. We couldn’t have done it without him.”

With the win, the ‘Hoos improved their record in road games to 4-1. (They’re 2-0 at neutral sites.)

Three of UVA’s next four games are away from JPJ, too, starting Wednesday night against Boston College (9-9, 2-3) at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Virginia showed Saturday that its margin for error is thin, “but we did a lot of good things too,” Wilkins said. “So we’ll take this, grow from it and learn from it.”

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