CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)One year after finishing in the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings and out of the NCAA Tournament, Virginia is back atop the league.
Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin scored 16 points each and No. 13 Virginia clinched a share of the regular-season ACC title with a 75-60 victory over Louisville on Saturday.
Virginia (23-6, 15-5) ended up in a first-place tie with No. 16 Miami, which beat No. 25 Pittsburgh later Saturday to secure the top seed in the ACC Tournament. Virginia will be the No. 2 seed. It’s the sixth time the Cavaliers have finished atop the ACC in 14 seasons under Tony Bennett.
After losing consecutive games at Boston College and North Carolina, the Cavaliers closed the regular season with home wins against Clemson and the Cardinals.
“I think the last two games were a step in the right direction,” Bennett said.
The Cavaliers shot 58% and had 25 assists on 29 baskets, with Reece Beekman leading the way with 11. They committed just seven turnovers.
“When we can share the ball and have that kind of an assist-to-turnover ratio, good things are usually going to happen,” Bennett said.
Mike James scored 24 points and El Ellis had 14 for Louisville (4-27, 2-18), which lost for the eighth time in its last nine games and finished the regular season last in the conference.
“There’s a reason why Virginia’s in the top 15 in the country,” Louisville coach Kenny Payne said. “They should probably been in the top 10, the top five. A well-oiled machine. Veteran players, they’re connected to each other as evidenced by 25 assists and 58% shooting.”
The Cavaliers led throughout and used a 13-2 run in the first half to open a 26-10 lead. It was 36-20 at halftime and the Cardinals never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
When it was over, Bennett presented Kihei Clark a basketball listing all the records he’s broken at Virginia and in the conference. He leads all ACC players with 74 career wins and in minutes played. His school records include career assists, games, victories and starts.
The team then cut down the nets at John Paul Jones Arena to celebrate the shared championship.
Clark and Francisco Caffaro have each been part of three conference titles.
“What a cool way to go out of JPJ,” Bennett said.
Louisville: The Cardinals’ bench scored just eight points, compared to 25 for Virginia’s reserves.
Virginia: The arena erupted when Clark was removed with under 50 seconds remaining. Clark earlier this year became the Cavaliers’ career assist leader and leads in numerous other categories. Bennett removed the rest of the starters with 37 seconds left. Fans chanted for Clark’s replacement, the seldom-used but very popular Chase Coleman, and he promptly made a 3-pointer to more roars.
Watching the shot go in gave Coleman “a surreal feeling,” he said. “It’s something that, you know, I can tell my kids about my nieces and nephews and tell them I was part of something special here in Charlottesville.”
The ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.
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