CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Kicking off ACC play with a convincing win on the road, Clemson upended Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday. Sparked by a career performance from Danae McNeal, the Tigers led for nearly the entire game and defeated the Cavaliers 71-55.
Clemson (6-0, 1-0) shot 43.1 percent from the field and held Virginia (0-4, 0-1) to a shooting percentage of 29.5. The Tigers knocked down four 3-pointers but made most of their offensive impact inside the arc, amassing 32 points in the paint. The story of the game was Clemson’s bench production, with the Tiger reserves racking up a grand total of 40 points. The Cavaliers committed 17 turnovers, which resulted in 12 Clemson points being scored. Also of note, Clemson out-rebounded Virginia 49-34 and finished with 18 offensive boards and 22 second-chance points.
McNeal scored a career-high 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting and served as Clemson’s leading scorer on the afternoon. Gabby Elliott tallied 10 points and corralled nine boards, making her one of the game’s top rebounders, as Hannah Hank also notched nine rebounds. Hank went 4-of-6 from the floor en route to scoring eight points. Kendall Spray chipped in nine points, and Destiny Thomas recorded eight points to go along with her four assists and game-high three steals. Virginia’s Amandine Toi scored 23 points and was 8-for-20 on field goal attempts.
The Tigers outscored the Cavaliers in three of the four quarters, starting with a 23-16 first quarter. Robinson scored the first four points of the game, but Virginia went on to take a 10-8 lead. Thomas responded by sinking a three-ball at the 4:47 mark of the first half, thus regaining the lead for Clemson, and the Tigers led the rest of the way. In the first half, McNeal made an impact in the paint with several hard-fought baskets, and Clemson also made the most of its offensive boards with a plethora of second-chance buckets.
Clemson went on an 8-0 run during the second quarter, which was capped off a Thomas trey, and sported a 43-27 advantage at halftime. The Wahoos outscored Clemson 15-9 in the third period, but the Tigers bounced back with a 19-point fourth quarter. Down the stretch, Tylar Bennett, who led all players with four blocks, showed out on defense, and Kendall Spray stepped up from beyond the arc. In addition to draining a 3-pointer, Spray made all three free throws after being fouled on a separate 3-point attempt. Clemson pulled away late and came away with a 71-55 win, starting conference play off on the right foot.
Clemson’s second ACC tilt of the season will also be a road test, with the Tigers heading to the Petersen Events Center for a meeting with the Pittsburgh Panthers (2-1). The contest in Pittsburgh between the Tigers and the Panthers will tip off at noon on Sunday, Dec. 13, and air on ACC Network.
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Head Coach Amanda Butler
Opening statement:“We definitely had some balance today in our scoring and rebounding. Our most important balance was in our defensive effort. We had several spots where our players stood and up made great plays, from Tylar [Bennett] blocking shots to Hannah [Hank] taking charges. That was important to thwarting Virginia’s runs.”
On Clemson’s top performers:“I was really proud of Danae [McNeal] and Hannah. Tylar and Kendall [Spray] didn’t have their best games, but they had some big moments. To have those meaningful contributions from the bench, especially Danae, was great. Danae was a huge shot in the arm for us. She’s been working hard and preparing for those kinds of opportunities, so I knew she’d be ready.”
On the significance of the win:“We had foul trouble. We had an injury. We basically had every conceivable negative thing that could happen in a game happen to us, but we still won by a 16 on someone else’s court. It’s a great way to start to ACC play.”