In limiting the ACC’s top three-point shooting outfit to 16 percent (4 for 25) from behind the arc, Virginia (11-2, 3-0) maintained a hold of at a least a tie for first place in the conference standings by pulling away in the second half in front of an announced crowd of 14,629.
“We were locked in,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “Did they miss some open shots? Yes. But did we make them shoot contested shots the majority of the time? Yes. So I thought we first got our defense set, and all the things that needed to happen did for us to be effective defensively against a team that is dangerous.”
Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-2) had a four-game winning streak ended in its first road game since Nov. 27. Landers Nolley II, a redshirt freshman guard-forward, led the Hokies with 18 points, scoring 15 of his team’s 17 in the first half.
Clark embarked on a similar tear bridging the halves to finish with 18 points, contributing 12 of the Cavaliers’ 17 during a surge that produced a 40-23 lead with 14:47 to play.
The sophomore guard made 5 of 9 shots overall in eclipsing his previous career high by three points, and he added six assists but committed four turnovers. Clark repeatedly got to the rim on dribble-drives and made 7 of 8 from the free throw line. Only one other Virginia player, Kody Stattmann (10 points), attempted a foul shot.
Clark has reached double-digit points in three of his past four games.
“In the past games when I’m coming off a pick and roll, I’ve usually got a lob or a bounce pass to Mamadi [Diakite], so I felt like they were really keying in on the big guys,” Clark said, “and I just saw a lane and took advantage. Scoring is an option, but I just take what the defense gives me.”
Braxton Key, playing with a splint on his surgically repaired left wrist, also had 18 on 8-for-12 shooting for offensively challenged Virginia, which has remained a front-runner in the ACC thanks in part to the stingiest three-point-shooting defense in the conference (27.6 percent).
The Hokies, meanwhile, entered the weekend with the best three-point-shooting percentage in the conference (39.4), most recently making 12 of 31 from beyond the arc Dec. 29 in a 92-37 win against Maryland Eastern Shore.
But the Cavaliers made certain to guard the three-point arc vigorously from tip-off, forcing Virginia Tech to miss its first seven attempts and growing the lead to double figures for the first time at 16-6 with 7:14 left until halftime and thereafter never getting seriously threatened.
Hokies forward P.J. Horne endured a particularly rocky showing from three-point range, missing all nine of his attempts. The junior had been 19 for 44 (43 percent) from that distance before Saturday.
Further plaguing the Hokies were 13 turnovers one game after they committed a season-low two to tie a school record. Virginia Tech leads the conference in fewest turnovers per game (9.5), committing 25 combined over its previous four games.
“We had an idea what we wanted to do,” said Mike Young, the Hokies’ first-year coach. “We thought we knew exactly how they would guard it, and we missed a couple shots that we typically get down. Instead of being seven or eight and in pretty good shape at the end of the half, you’re down 13.
“That’s not insurmountable but very, very difficult.”
Virginia matched its highest scoring output this season for a second straight game behind 46 percent shooting. That’s the second-highest shooting percentage for the Cavaliers this season, and it came on the heels of a 65-56 win against Navy in which Virginia shot 53.2 percent.
Still, the Cavaliers are firmly in last place in the ACC in scoring offense (55.9), 10 points behind 14th-place Georgia Tech, as well as near the bottom in field goal shooting percentage (41.4).
“Guys are making shots, so it feels good,” said Clark, who had 17 points combined in Virginia’s first two ACC games. “I think guys are getting into a rhythm. But, yeah, we put in the work, and we will continue to play, and even if we don’t make shots, we will continue to work the offense. It feels good right now.”