NEW YORK — Kyle Guy finished with 15 points and Ty Jerome continued his stellar play, finishing with six points, 10 assists and four boards as top-seed Virginia knocked off Clemson, 64-58, in the ACC semifinals.
Clemson jumped out to a 20-13 lead on the ‘Hoos midway through the first half when Virginia decided to do what Virginia does and strangle the life out of whomever gets in its path. Over the course of an eight-minute stretch at the end of the first half, Virginia held Clemson scoreless, scoring 16 points itself while the Tigers missed nine straight shots that opened up a 29-20 lead from which Clemson would never be able to recover. Center Jack Salt chipped in with eight points and six boards after halftime, helping the Wahoos hold Clemson at bay.
“You don’t ever assume defensively that you just got it and you’re going to show up,” Bennett said. “We weren’t quite right to start the game and they had their way, so you have to — they have to be so right defensively, and that’s where you start.”
With the win, the Wahoos advance to the ACC title game to take on the winner of tonight’s second semifinal between Duke and North Carolina.
And at this point, that is what Virginia is playing for. The Cavaliers has the No. 1 overall seed locked up. They had it locked up before this tournament started. It was locked up when we all thought they were going to lose to Louisville when they trailed by four points with 0.9 seconds left nine days ago. It’s been clear as day that Virginia has the best résumé in college basketball for more than a month now.
No other high-major team in college basketball finished with just one loss during conference play unless you want to count Gonzaga. Michigan State and Cincinnati were the only power conference teams that finished with two regular season losses in league play, and they, combined, have fewer Quadrant 1 wins than Virginia does.
They’ve won at Duke. They took care of North Carolina without much of an issue. Their only two losses on the season came at West Virginia and when they blew a five-point lead in the final 30 seconds against Virginia Tech.
They don’t get credit for their on-court success because of the way that they play, and they probably never will.
“This is a complete group,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “Their unity is as good as any as I’ve ever coached, and those other teams had very good unity. They’re relentless the way they play, and that’s the way we have to play to be good.”
And it won’t matter if this is the year that it leads to NCAA tournament success.