CLEMSON — Games aren’t decided on paper — which Clemson coach Brad Brownell can be thankful for — but that doesn’t make tonight’s 7 p.m. tip any easier.
It is the ugly combination of the Tigers’ road woes meeting a dominant home team, Virginia (15-6, 5-3 ACC), in a game televised on ESPN2.
The Cavaliers are 13-1 in the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena this season and 4-0 in ACC play, edging opponents by a 64-45 average final score.
Clemson’s struggles away from Littlejohn Coliseum are well-documented now, dropping to 0-4 on the road in conference with last Saturday’s 75-68 loss at Boston College. In ACC action, Clemson (12-9, 4-5) is giving up almost 10 more points away (67.3) and scoring seven less (56.8) than back in the Upstate.
"We haven’t been very good at times on the road," Brownell said. "Like most teams, we’ve struggled in situations.
"But I don’t know. We play better on offense at home. We have more rhythm, play with more confidence, and we make shots. But I don’t know that we’re doing anything that’s tremendously different."
The Cavaliers come in last in scoring offense (61.3 points per game), but fourth in scoring margin (+6.3) thanks to the top defense in conference play (62 ppg allowed). Most recently, Virginia held a No. 19 N.C. State to nearly 20 points below their average in a 58-55 win.
"I think they’re terrific defensively," Brownell said. "They’re certainly as sound as anybody in our league in terms of teams that don’t make very many mistakes."
Virginia runs a "Pack-Line" defense, adopted by Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett from his dad, Dick, who coached Wisconsin to the Final Four in 2000. It presents many of the same issues Clemson faced against Boston College (39.6 field goal percentage), daring a team struggling to shoot to do to just that.
"They don’t spread out very far, so they’re close to each other," Brownell said. "They help and recover well. They’re attentive and alert."
Clemson’s task tonight is to find the formula from the 59-44 win over the Wahoos back on Jan. 12 in Littlejohn.
The Tigers led by four at the half — extended the lead to seven with a Damarcus Harrison three-pointer with 14 minutes left — and the Cavaliers never really threatened again. Senior forward Milton Jennings had a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds and Devin Booker added 15 points and nine rebounds.
"I do think we did play very well in that game and moved the ball and had different guys playing confidently," said Brownell. "(That’s) something that really hasn’t happened for us on the road on the offensive end.
"We need that to happen (tonight) to have a chance to win."
Booker has been one of a few bright spots on the ACC road this season, averaging above his overall numbers at 18.3 ppg. Among double-figures scorers (in season average), K.J. McDaniels is next-best (8.3) and then Jennings (8).
The Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak since falling to the Tigers was snapped at Georgia Tech, 66-60. They led by nine at the half and were outscored by 15 in the second session.
"Both of us are coming off some tough losses," Virginia’s Bennett said. "We played well enough to come away with a win at Georgia Tech, but the last six or seven minutes (we) had too many empty possessions — whether it be missed shots, a turnover or breakdown that really cost us in that game."