Behind a defensive uprising that held the conference's second-highest-scoring offense 20 points below its average, the Cavaliers ended Florida State's 10-game winning streak and posted a victory against a top-five opponent for the first time this season.
"We didn't flinch," Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. "We weren't perfect, but enough big plays were made. You've got to do that down the stretch. You can't win those games unless you kind of take the moment and make a tough play."
With the Seminoles (17-3, 7-2) holding a 56-53 lead and less than two minutes left, Virginia got within one when center Jay Huff gathered a lob from Clark and finished with a two-handed dunk. On Virginia's next possession came Clark's go-ahead layup; the sophomore beat Malik Osborne to the basket when the 6-9 forward got caught in a switch.
Diakite followed by making two free throws with 13.9 seconds left, and Braxton Key added two foul shots for the final margin with 0.1 seconds left after Florida State missed two three-pointers in the waning seconds.
"When I got the big switched on to me, I used my quickness to my advantage," Clark said. "That was the game plan. We just kind of wanted to space it and play downhill and try to get our shooters open shots on back doors and slides. They stuck with the shooters, so I went in and tried to make a play."
Clark went 7 for 7 from the free throw line to make up for 4-for-12 shooting from the field and four of Virginia's 17 turnovers, two shy of matching its most in a game this season.
The Cavaliers split the regular season series against Florida State by beating one of the few ranked foes they will face in the second half of ACC play. They lost the first meeting, 54-50, on Jan. 15 in Tallahassee. This time, Florida State shot 39 percent, well below its average this season of 46.1, and it had just one player, sophomore guard Devin Vassell (17 points), score in double figures.
"Sometimes size is misleading — unless you're maybe a sumo wrestler, it may make a difference," Seminoles Coach Leonard Hamilton quipped of Clark. "When you're small and quick and fast, that has its advantages, too. He's a very clever guy with the ball. He might be small in stature, but he has the biggest heart in the ACC."
Neither team led by more than five points in the second half, which included the ejection of Florida State’s Balsa Koprivica for committing a flagrant 2 foul. Officials dismissed the freshman center with 7:04 left after he shoved Clark, who had been driving to the basket, to the ground while making no play on the ball.
Clark made both free throws and soon after added two more foul shots to close a personal run of seven consecutive points that allowed the Cavaliers to lead 48-47 with 6:14 left.
Despite completing the first half with more turnovers (10) than field goals (nine), the Cavaliers trailed only 28-27 thanks to determined rebounding and getting to the free throw line seven times, making six of those attempts. They also buckled down in three-point defense, holding the Seminoles to one make in their last eight attempts of the half.
“We knew we were going to turn the ball over against a team like that, but just try to limit the turnovers to as minimal as possible,” Key said. “Still, we could be a little more sound, but just fortunate a lot of guys made tougher shots.”
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