By Jeff White (

CLEMSON, S.C. — As gratifying as the victory was, University of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett knew another important game lay about 50 hours ahead. And so in the visitors’ locker room at Littlejohn Coliseum, Bennett gave his players 10 seconds Saturday afternoon to celebrate UVA’s 66-65 win over ACC rival Clemson.

The jubilant Cavaliers made the most of their allotted time, jumping and shouting and cheering until Bennett pointed at the clock.

“We had a good win,” sophomore forward Ryan Dunn said, “but now we flush it and get ready for Miami on Monday.”

The victory was the sixth straight for the Wahoos (17-5 overall, 8-3 ACC), who host the Hurricanes (15-7, 6-5) at 7 p.m. Monday at John Paul Jones Arena. Miami rallied to defeat Virginia Tech in Coral Gables, Fla., on Saturday.

Virginia, the ACC’s second-place team, is 12-0 at JPJ this season and has won 22 consecutive home games. What’s kept the Hoos from being rated as locks for the NCAA tournament are their struggles away from home during the first half of the season. They lost by 24 points to Wisconsin in Fort Myers, Fla., by 23 at Memphis, by 22 at Notre Dame, by 16 at NC State, and by 19 at Wake Forest.

“We weren’t competitive at all,” Dunn said.

“I think we were still trying to find out who we are as a team,” forward Jake Groves said. “And I know Coach Bennett would definitely say our defense has improved.”

Indeed, the Cavaliers no longer resemble the group that stumbled away from JPJ. “I think we’ve matured,” Bennett said.

Virginia broke through on the road with a Jan. 20 victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta and then triumphed at Louisville a week later. The Hoos won each of those games by at least 17 points. Clemson (14-7, 4-6), with 6-foot-10 PJ Hall and 6-foot-8 Ian Schieffelin, posed a greater challenge.

“That’s formidable,” Bennett said of the Tigers’ frontcourt duo.

That didn’t deter the Cavaliers, who went ahead on a putback dunk by Dunn at the 15:48 mark of the first half and led 34-26 at the break. A 3-pointer by Hall with 5:37 remaining gave the Tigers their first lead since 8-7, but it was short-lived. With 4:29 left, Isaac McKneely hit a baseline jumper that put the Hoos ahead 58-57, and they never trailed again.

Still, there were more than a few anxious moments for UVA (and its fans) in the final minute. With 19.1 seconds left and the Hoos leading 66-62, Groves went to the line with an opportunity to all but secure the win. He missed the front end of his one-and-one, however, and teammate Jordan Minor fouled Hall on a 3-point attempt at the other end.

“It would be nice if we could make a couple extra free throws down the stretch, myself included,” Groves said, shaking his head.

Jordan Minor defends PJ Hall

The foul was Minor’s fifth, and after he went to the bench, Hall calmly sank all three free throws to make it 66-65. On the ensuing inbounds play, the Cavaliers had to call their final timeout to avoid a five-second violation. When they finally passed the ball in, it went to reserve guard Dante Harris, who was shooting 53.3 percent from the line. Like Groves, he missed the front end of his one-and-one, and the Tigers rebounded.

Needing one last stop, the Cavaliers delivered. A long 3-point attempt by Clemson reserve Jack Clark was off the mark. Harris snared the rebound, and Virginia could finally exhale.

“We were wobbly down the stretch,” Bennett said, but the Hoos made enough plays to earn a hard-fought victory.

“It was good,” Groves said of the postgame scene in the locker room. “I love when you put two days of hard working into a scout and then you go out there and execute it like you want and come out with a Quad One win, especially in a big-time road game.”

Bennett cited three late-game plays as especially crucial. The first came with about 3:10 left. After a missed jumper by McKneely, Dunn dived to keep the ball from going out of bounds and saved it to Groves, who was perilously close to the sideline himself and quickly passed to McKneely. The possession continued and the ball ended up back in the hands of Groves, whose pull-up jumper from the right baseline gave Virginia a 60-57 lead.

“I’d kind of been getting torched the whole game with rebounding,” Dunn said. “Schieffelin did a great job with offensive rebounding against me. That wasn’t my best. It was one of those plays where we needed to get it, so I just kind of said, ‘I’ll put my body on the line and just go get it.’ ”

Then came a four-point play by McKneely with 2:11 remaining. With Virginia up 60-59, the 6-foot-4 sophomore took a pass from senior point guard Reece Beekman on the right wing and fired from beyond the arc. McKneely was fouled but still made the shot, and he added the free throw to make it a five-point game.

“Huge shot,” Groves said. “Obviously we were battling. It was a one-possession game right there, and that kind of pushed it out two possessions.”

McKneely said he knew Clemson guard Chase Hunter had fouled him, but he didn’t see the ball go in the basket. As No. 11 lay on the court, Hunter was in his line of vision. “But I just saw our bench go crazy,” McKneely said, “so I was like, ‘I must have made it.’ I’m just thankful for that shot. I was due for one.”

Finally, with 38 seconds left, the 6-foot-8 Dunn soared to tip in a miss by Minor, giving the Cavaliers a 66-62 lead.

“Those are the winning plays,” Bennett said of Dunn’s gems. “Those are the X-factor plays … I’ll remember those for a long time, because that’s the stuff that [is required to win]. So he used his grit, his athleticism, and those plays won us the game as much as the four-point play and some of those other things.”

Dunn “makes hustle plays for us,” McKneely said, “and he made a few tonight that were huge.”

Three players scored in double figures for Virginia: Groves (17 points), McKneely (14) and Beekman (14). That put Beekman, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, past the 1,000-point mark for his illustrious UVA career, and he also had a game-high three steals.

Dunn scored only five points, but he pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Minor, a 6-foot-8 graduate transfer from Merrimack, contributed nine points, nine rebounds and a season-high two blocked shots before fouling out. He guarded Hall for most of the game and won his share of those battles.

“Important,” Bennett of Minor’s defense in the paint. “That is exhausting, doing that.”

Hall finished with a game-high 19 points but missed 12 of 16 shots from the floor. He was 10 for 12 from the line.

Virginia, which has won 15 of its past 16 games with Clemson, held Hall to two points in the first half, but “with his physicality and his experience” he asserted himself after intermission, Bennett noted.

Clemson guard Joseph Girard III, a graduate transfer from another ACC school, Syracuse, hit four treys and scored 14 points—“He’s one of those shooters that you’ve got to be aware of the moment he crosses halfcourt,” Bennett said—and Schieffelin totaled 13 points and nine rebounds.

In the end, though, their production and the support of a capacity crowd of 9,000 were not enough to halt the Cavaliers’ winning streak.

“I’ll tell you this, Clemson is a hostile environment and we love it,” Dunn said. “It’s awesome. It’s small but packed, and I’m proud of the the way that we stuck together this whole game and fought the whole time.”

Virginia was coming off a win over Notre Dame at JPJ, where the 6-foot-9 Groves hit six treys and scored a season-high 18 points. The graduate transfer from Oklahoma sparkled again Saturday, making 3 of 4 shots from long range and 7 of 9 overall. For the season, Groves is 33 of 66 (50 percent) from beyond the arc.

“We’re not a dominant interior scoring team like Clemson with PJ and Ian,” Bennett said, “so we have to get it by stretching the floor and some drives, and when Jake is stretching it from 3, hitting some pull-ups—he even had a little kind of post-up play when they switched Girard on him—that was huge.”

This was the sixth of seven straight Saturday road games for Virginia, which plays at Florida State next weekend. They’re now 5-5 away from JPJ.

“Early on we got beat up pretty good [on the road],” McKneely said. “I think just the biggest problem for us was we weren’t playing a full 40 minutes … We just played a full 40 minutes tonight and we didn’t let the crowd get into it too much. So we were able to prevail, and I’m happy with this win.”

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