The month of February is all about separation. For the best teams it’s about making a final push for a conference title, with an eye towards improving their seeding for the NCAA tournament as well. And for other teams, separation refers to the need to rack up quality wins in order to simply earn a spot in the 68-team field. That was the case for the Clemson Tigers entering their game against No. 17 Virginia on Saturday, with a win bolstering a resume that currently features a win over No. 8 Duke.
But the Tigers failed to take advantage of the opportunity, falling 63-58 with the combination of Virginia’s stout pack line defense and Clemson’s relative lack of offensive options being the cause. With Virginia shooting just 34.6% from the field in the second half Clemson had an opportunity to grab a needed quality win but they weren’t much better themselves, shooting 35.0%.
And outside of K.J. McDaniels, who scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, no Tiger managed to score more than six points in the game’s final 20 minutes. That won’t get it done against a team like Virginia, which finished the game with four players scoring in double figures. Two of those four were forwards Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, who scored 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Saturday’s performance represented a needed step forward for both Gill and Tobey, with the former looking to rebound from a one-point night against Maryland on Monday. As for Tobey, he’d accounted for a total of six points in Virginia’s last three games. If Gill and Tobey can consistently contribute alongside Mitchell, who grabbed five of Virginia’s 13 offensive rebounds on Saturday, Virginia becomes a tougher team to defend with Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon both being capable scorers on the perimeter.
At 12-1 in ACC play Virginia is clearly the biggest threat to Syracuse in the Orange’s quest to win the ACC in its inaugural season. As for Clemson, while this was a game they needed there will be other opportunities between now and the ACC tournament. But in order to take advantage of those chances, Clemson’s going to need more from players not named K.J. McDaniels on the offensive end of the floor.