GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) Malcolm Brogdon had no doubt of No. 4 Virginia’s fate if it faced this road challenge two months ago.
“This is a game we probably would’ve lost earlier in ACC play,” Brogdon said.
Instead, the Cavaliers recovered after losing a double-digit lead to defeat Clemson 64-57 on Tuesday night and keep alive their long shot bid for an Atlantic Coast Conference title.
“We’re resilient,” said Brogdon, who led Virginia (23-76, 12-5) with 18 points. “It just speaks to our maturity.”
The Cavaliers have indeed grown from the mess that was a 2-3 start – all three defeats on the road – to the ACC season. Now, they have won 10 of 12 and with the right set of circumstances could wind up with a share of first place when the weekend’s over.
“This year we’ve lost some tough ones and they haven’t made excuses,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “They’ve just showed up and played and realized it’s worth the fight. That’s what I like from them.”
The Cavaliers got off to a 12-0 start and looked ready to blow the Tigers out of the building. Instead, Clemson (16-13, 9-8) scratched away and led 47-46 on Gabe DeVoe’s 3-pointer with 6:29 remaining.
That’s when Virginia scored seven straight points, started by Anthony Gill’s three-point play, to gain control toward its third straight 12-win ACC season – a feat last accomplished from 1981-83 when Ralph Sampson patrolled the paint for the Cavaliers.
Gill had 11 points and 10 rebounds, his third double-double for Virginia this season. London Perrantes had 13 points, including a 3-pointer after Clemson closed to 53-52 with under 3 minutes remaining.
“We never stop fighting,” Perrantes said. “We’re hoping it helps in the long run and we feel that it has.”
Jaron Blossomgame led Clemson with 31 points.
Blossomgame finished two points shy of his career high, set two games ago in a loss at North Carolina State.
“We just aren’t great at any one thing,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We’re pretty good at a lot of things, but one of them breaks down in games and we aren’t good enough or strong enough to overcome it.”
Clemson started 0 for 10 from the field and the Tigers looked like they were going to get blown out in their final regular-season home game. Instead, the Tigers rallied with a 19-9 run to get back in it.
But Brogdon and Perrantes blunted any charge Clemson would make.
When the Tigers sliced the lead to 18-13, Brogdon hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half to extend the margin.
Clemson closed to 28-25 on Blossomgame’s free throws with 2:15 to go, Perrantes connected on a long-range basket to keep Virginia on top.
Brogdon scored 14 points in the half as the Cavaliers led 33-27.
Clemson, as it did in wins here over ranked opponents Louisville, Duke and Miami earlier this season, rallied to move in front. The Tigers, though, could not sustain the run against the Cavaliers’ best-in-the-ACC defense.
Clemson has lost five of its past seven games by an average margin of four points.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are looking to win at least 23 games for a fourth straight season, something they had not done in more than three decades since 1980-83 when they were led by Sampson.
Clemson: The Tigers will finish with more ACC victories than non-conference wins this season. Clemson has nine league wins so far. It went just 7-5 in its pre-ACC schedule.
Bennett said his players aren’t concerned about matching Virginia’s elite basketball history, just about enjoying the ride they’re on at the moment. Bennett said the joy in the game comes from playing well and that’s what Virginia has done the past six weeks. “The accomplishments you get, `OK, that’s nice,’ and maybe you look back on it at some point,” he said. “We talk a lot about just being ready.”
Blossomgame had more than 50 percent of his team’s points (31 of 57), something that had not occurred for the Tigers since Skip Wise scored 38 of their 75 points in a game against Penn in 1974.
Virginia closes the regular season against No. 11 Louisville on Saturday.
Clemson finishes ACC regular season play at Boston College on Saturday.