CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the past, Tony Bennett’s Virginia basketball teams have been dominant in November and December.
Not this year.
The Cavaliers’ 67-50 loss to Clemson on Wednesday night dropped them to 7-5, their worst start in the Bennett era, and raised plenty of questions about the team’s future as the calendar nears 2022.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. That's real,” said Bennett. “That's a very solid team we played and we'll keep working to improve and I just kept telling the guys just keep battling, keep battling, keep trying to be as tough as you can.”
The Tigers’ frontcourt of Hunter Tyson and PJ Hall combined for 28 points as Clemson snapped an 11-game losing streak against UVa and handed the Cavs their worst home loss since a 63-44 defeat against Boston College in 2011.
These Tigers are unranked and this Virginia loss was far more discouraging.
Tyson led Clemson (9-4, 1-1 ACC) with 17 points and guard David Collins added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
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Hall, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, was the No. 1-ranked recruit in South Carolina as a senior in 2019. He continued his evolution from bench player to emerging star with a big first half, scoring 9 of his 11 points before the break.
“I think our guys played confidently,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “It helped that we shot the ball well early. We made a couple of threes early and our defense was outstanding most of the night.”
Clemson’s bench outscored UVa’s 17-0.
The Cavaliers (7-5, 1-1), who were 64-7 in November and December the past seven seasons, finally saw sophomore guard Reece Beekman break out as a potential scorer. Attacking the rim and pulling up for 3-pointers in the first half, Beekman scored 14 of his career-high 20 before the break.
Indiana transfer Armaan Franklin had a productive night, scoring 13 and grabbing eight rebounds. But Franklin’s struggles beyond the 3-point arc continued, as he went 1 for 7 against the Tigers.
Virginia hit just six of its 22 attempts from 3-point range.
Senior forward Jayden Gardner, coming off a 29-point outing against Farleigh Dickinson on Saturday, had one of his least effective games at UVa, scoring 9 points on a 2-for-9 shooting night.
Beekman faded in the second half and UVa got little production from the rest of the lineup. That combined with 14 turnovers meant points were again at a premium for Virginia.
“I just took what the defense gave me,” said Beekman. “Kihei [Clark] and the others set me up pretty well tonight and always staying aggressive looking for my shot. That was the game plan coming in as always but today was just the night.”
UVa, which edged Pittsburgh earlier this month in its ACC opener, had opened 2-0 in league play in each of the past four seasons.
Clemson hit its first three 3-point tries to take a 9-5 lead three minutes into the contest.
Gardner, who scores most of his points in the paint, stuck a 3-pointer from the wing to give UVa a 10-9 lead 4:42 into the game. But late in the half, Clemson used a 7-0 run to go up 31-21 with 4:37 left before the break.
It led 35-27 at the half. UVa shot 55.6% in the first 20 minutes, but eight first-half turnovers meant eight empty possessions.
But Virginia opened the second half on a tear, using an 8-2 run — with 3-pointers by Franklin and Clark bookending a dunk by Beekman — to trim the deficit to 37-35.
That would be as close as the home team would get. UVa endured a stretch of more than eight minutes without a field goal as Clemson built a 51-39 with 9:30 to play.
Virginia’s next game comes after the calendar flips, when it plays at Syracuse on Jan. 1.