March 09, 2018
NEW YORK (AP) Kyle Guy scored 15 points and No. 1 Virginia advanced to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game with a 64-58 victory over No. 19 Clemson on Friday night.
The top-seeded Cavaliers (30-2) got several crucial plays from role player Jack Salt down the stretch and will face fifth-ranked and second-seeded Duke or 12th-ranked and sixth-seeded North Carolina for the tournament title Saturday night in Brooklyn.
Virginia’s only ACC Tournament crowns came in 1976 and 2014.
Shelton Mitchell had 18 points and Elijah Thomas added 15 for the fourth-seeded Tigers (23-9), who remain the lone original member of the ACC that hasn’t won the conference tournament. Clemson was trying to reach the finals for only the third time.
Tigers leading scorer Marcquise Reed, who was averaging better than 16 points, was held to six on 2-for-14 shooting by the nation’s most suffocating defense. He missed nine of 10 tries from 3-point range.
Virginia built a 14-point lead with 13 minutes remaining and slowed the game down, but Clemson cut the deficit to five with 7:22 left. That’s when Salt, a 6-foot-10 junior center from New Zealand who was averaging 3.4 points and 4.1 rebounds, started coming up really big.
After tossing in a baby hook with 8:25 to go, he grabbed an offensive rebound, scored on a turnaround bank shot in the post and followed with another bucket inside at the five-minute mark to make it a nine-point game.
For good measure, he pulled down an important defensive rebound, had a tip-in with 2:02 left to make it 59-51 and then saved a long pass from going out of bounds.
Salt scored all eight of his points and snatched six of his eight rebounds after halftime.
Clemson got within four with 13.4 seconds left, but Devon Hall hit two free throws and Reed missed two shots at the other end as Virginia closed it out.
Clemson executed nicely on offense for the first 10 1/2 minutes and jumped out to a 20-13 lead as Virginia missed eight of its first nine 3-point tries.
But as if they simply flipped a switch – and turned the lights out on Clemson – the Cavaliers clamped down and held the Tigers to 0-for-10 shooting the rest of the first half. UVA fans roared their appreciation of the defensive effort, and at the other end Guy scored eight points as Virginia hit seven of eight shots in a 16-0 spurt.
Three free throws by Mitchell with 1:07 remaining snapped Clemson’s scoring drought, and the Cavs went into halftime with a 32-23 advantage.
IN THE COMPANY OF A LEGEND
Virginia coach Tony Bennett was chosen the USBWA Henry Iba National Coach of the Year for the third time. The only coach with more was UCLA great John Wooden (six).
Clemson: Picked in the preseason to finish 13th in the ACC, the Tigers set a program record with 11 regular-season wins in ACC play.
Virginia: Reached 30 wins for the fourth time in school history and improved to 7-1 against Clemson in the ACC Tournament, though this was their first meeting since 2004.
Clemson: Headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, the team’s first season under coach Brad Brownell.
Virginia: The school’s ninth appearance in the ACC championship game. Virginia beat North Carolina 61-49 at home in early January and won 65-63 at Duke late that month.
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