Saturday night’s matchup of ACC contenders turned into a record-setting romp for No. 18 Virginia, which opened a cavernous lead in the first half and kept the onslaught going for an 85-50 win over No. 12 Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C.

After securing the largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent in program history, the Cavaliers moved into sole possession of first place in the ACC when No. 16 Louisville lost at Miami later Saturday. Virginia also won its fifth consecutive game and ran its winning streak against shellshocked Clemson to 11.

Virginia (9-2, 5-0), which never trailed and opened with an 18-2 run, posted its second-most points of the season to waylay a defense that was ranked first nationally in efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. The most points the Tigers (9-2, 3-2) had allowed was 70, which Virginia reached midway through the second half in front of a stunned crowd of 1,876.

“I thought it was a good effort obviously all the way around,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said after his Cavaliers defeated a ranked opponent for the first time this season. “And some really good individual performances, too.”

The Cavaliers shot 60.7 percent, their best showing of the season, and made 15 of 27 three-pointers. Over the past two games, Virginia has gone 27 for 51 (52.9 percent) from behind the arc, showcasing a balanced attack that can score consistently from long range as well as in the paint.

Virginia also had 22 assists, its most this year, and five players scored in double figures for a second straight game. Forward Sam Hauser and guard Tomas Woldetensae led the way with 14 points each. Hauser, a transfer from Marquette, went 4 for 5 from three-point range, and Woldetensae was 4 for 6. Guard Trey Murphy III, a transfer from Rice, added 13 points and made all three of his three-point attempts.

The Cavaliers made their first nine three-point tries of the second half to expand their lead to as much as 39 and snap Clemson’s four-game winning streak.

“Being a part of any run like that, it’s very fun to play,” Hauser said. “When things are going your way like that, it’s very contagious. I think guys coming off the bench to even guys on the floor at the time, once they saw other people making shots, I think it gave them more confidence to shoot and take better shots.”

Virginia committed just seven turnovers, the fifth consecutive game in which the Cavaliers were in the single digits after committing 15 in a 98-75 loss to top-ranked Gonzaga on Dec. 26. Among the Cavaliers’ starters, three did not have a turnover against Clemson; freshman guard Reece Beekman had one, and Hauser (two) was the only starter with multiple turnovers.

The Tigers managed to connect on just 5 of 23 three-point attempts (21.7 percent) against Bennett’s unforgiving pack-line defense.

“It’s unbelievable,” Woldetensae said of playing when his team is operating at a high level. “It’s fun. It’s engaging. Everybody is cheering from the bench. Energy just flows from your body. It’s just a happy moment, especially now with covid.”

The matchup was a rarity: Both teams were ranked for the first time in 74 meetings. Clemson also came in ranked higher than Virginia for the first time since 2009.

Following a one-week pause because of a positive coronavirus test in the program, Clemson was playing for the first time since Jan. 5. The layoff included postponements of games against North Carolina and Syracuse, with the Tigers resuming practice Wednesday.

Capitalizing on its opponent’s lengthy stretch of inactivity, Virginia raced to an 18-2 lead thanks to some of its most efficient offense of the season. The lead grew to 33-9 with 2:40 left, but the Tigers closed with the first half’s final eight points, including two three-pointers after they had missed their first 10 attempts. Still, Virginia’s 33-17 advantage represented the largest halftime deficit the Tigers had faced this season.

“This was a tough day at the office, to say the least,” Clemson Coach Brad Brownell said. “We just didn’t have it tonight, and Virginia definitely had something to do with it. They were outstanding and always two steps faster than us. Our guys seemed to lose confidence right way. We just couldn’t make shots early on.”

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