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Clemson’s second-half rally falls short at Virginia

The Tigers nearly erased a 12-point halftime deficit but ultimately came up short against the Cavaliers.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Every time Clemson got within striking distance, Virginia’s Braxton Key had the answer.

Key scored 19 points to lead the Cavaliers to a 51-44 win over the Tigers, making 4 of his 6 three-point attempts despite entering the game shooting just 17 percent from deep on the season.

Clemson struggled to score out of the gate against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense and trailed 14-2 just over seven minutes into the game. The Tigers managed to finally get their footing but still trailed 26-14 at halftime.

The trio of Aamir Simms, Al-Amir Dawes and Tevin Mack — along with a strong effort on the defensive end — helped Clemson gradually crawl back into the game.

After cutting the lead to 36-34 on a Simms three-pointer with six minutes to play, Clemson had two chances to take the lead. But back-to-back three-point attempts by Clyde Trapp and Mack didn’t fall, and Key made his first of two dagger threes down the stretch.

Even then, the Tigers had the ball trailing just 42-39 with under two minutes to play. Another Trapp miss led to another Key make, however, and Virginia kept Clemson at bay from there.

This game was almost guaranteed to be a low-scoring one, and ultimately Key’s performance tipped the scales in favor of the Cavaliers. He hadn’t made a three-pointer in his previous five games.

Simms led Clemson with 16 points, while Dawes and Mack added 11 and 10, respectively. The problem was — as it so often is against Virginia — they needed 38 shots to combine for those 37 points.

John Newman was the only other Tiger to score, and he was actually the most efficient one — notching seven points on 3-of-5 shooting.

Mamadi Diakite chipped in 13 points for the Cavaliers, while Jay Huff posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.