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Virginia Leans on Defense to Quiet the Tigers, 63-43

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Virginia once again asserted their defensive dominance under Coach Tony Bennett.

NCAA Basketball: VCU at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers drop to 0-3 in ACC play after Virginia leaned on defense to slowly suck the life out of yet another opponent. It was reminiscent of how Alabama’s football team used to lean of defense to suffocate teams in the days before Clemson became the better football team.

The Hardwood Tigers played sound basketball early, but simply didn’t knock down good looks. It started with Aamir Simms missing an open three-pointer. Reed did the same, then Skara missed a lay-up. Several more shots clanked out before Marquise Reed finally knocked down a floater to end a 0-7 shooting start to the game.

By then, the Tigers trailed 7-2 and it’s hard to climb back against such a dominant defensive team. Virginia followed their 7-2 run with an 8-2 and the Tigers were deep in a 15-4 hole early. As the game neared halftime, they battled back by attacking the basket and drawing fouls. Reed in particular got to the line time and time again, going 8-11 from the line by the game’s conclusion. The Tigers trimmed the deficit to a manageable six points at halftime.

In the second half, Virginia broke Clemson’s will (much like Clemson broke Alabama football team’s will in the second half on Monday). Whenever the Tigers got somewhat close, they’d knock down a three. Virginia finished 10-23 (44%) from the behind the arc and far too many of those shots in the second half were wide open. The Tigers are 23rd in defensive efficiency, but 288th in 3P% allowed and 227th in proportion of opponents field goals that were from three (the ranking assumes you want them to shoot fewer three-pointers). This will need to improved moving forward, but overall it was a solid defensive performance.

It’s the offense, which entered ranked 59th in efficiency (and will fall after this performance) that needs to step up as we enter the most critical point of the season. Here are some key takeaways from this 63-43 loss:

  • Eli Thomas was double-teamed in the paint for much of the night and it stifled him. He often threw high passes out of the double team that took shooters too long to leap and catch so they couldn’t catch and shoot. He didn’t score his first point until 1:00 remained in the first half. He played much better in the second half, but still finished with just 8 points and four turnovers.
  • Marquise Reed shed his knee brace, but finished 0-5 from three. He led all Tigers with 14 points, but most of those were from the free throw line. His 3P% is now below 33% and has declined every year of his career.
  • Shelton Mitchell’s struggles continue. He knocked down a huge three-pointer that kept Clemson within striking distance before halftime, but it was his only field goal of the game and he finished with just one assist.
  • Aamir Simms went 0-5 from three and is now 1-14 from three-point range in the last four games. In the four games prior, he was a blazing hot 9-21.
  • Don’t panic though, the most critical juncture of the season begins on Wednesday. We knew this killer three-game stretch was most likely to result in an 0-3 start to ACC play, but the schedule is quite favorable moving forward. In their next six games, they play GT twice, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest. They also have difficult road trips to FSU and NC State , but neither of those is as difficult as their trip to Cameron Indoor. The Tigers must go 4-2 or better in their next six games if they’d like to keep their hopes of another March run alive. Fortunately, they’re well equipped to do turn it around starting Wednesday.