Virginia Falls to FSU

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Sean Singletary in the loss.

Foul trouble, poor overtime free throw shooting, and a 7:12 scoreless drought were too much to overcome for Virginia against Florida State on Wednesday night. Despite holding a five-point lead late in the second half and 27 points from Sean Singletary , the Cavaliers faltered with an 87-82 OT loss in front of 7,556 at University Hall.

The final score may be surprising to some observers who expected a defensive struggle. After all coming into the game, Virginia had held opponents to 40.4 percent shooting while Florida State had kept opponents to 39.2 percent shooting. That theory went by the wayside in a hurry as a pair of hot-shooting, crisp-passing teams lit up the scoreboard. FSU shot 60 percent for the game (30 for 50) with 20 assists, while UVa cooled off late in regulation and overtime to finish at 44.6 percent with 19 assists.

“I thought we lost the game in the first half,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “We didn’t do a couple of things. We didn’t look like, in my estimation, that we had spent any time practicing defense. We sat behind the post, we gave up middle penetration. You name it, we did it.”

In the end, the Seminoles placed four players in double figures. Al Thornton led the way with 22 points, while Isaiah Swann added 17. Alexander Johnson and Jason Rich chipped in with 16 and 12, respectively. For Virginia, three players posted double figures, led by Singletary’s 27. J.R. Reynolds added 17 points and Mamadi Diane tallied 11.

“This is life on the road in the ACC. Virginia was well prepared and they made run after run in the first half and we couldn’t seem to shake them,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We came back with a rejuvenated spirit in the second half and tied the game and we felt very fortunate that we were able to come away with the victory. We made some big plays down the stretch, hit our free throws, had a couple of stops and deflections and I thought that made the difference in the game.”

Indeed, UVa had dug out of a late first-half deficit to trail by just two at the half, 47-45, and a back-and-forth battle see-sawed in the Cavaliers’ favor with less than six minutes to play. When Adrian Joseph , who was 1 for 8 before the shot, drained a 3-pointer at the 2:46 mark, Virginia led 77-72. That’s when the hosts went ice cold from the floor, a shooting slump created by and taken advantage of by the FSU defense, which picked up the pressure down the stretch.

The Seminoles closed regulation on a 5-0 run to force overtime and then managed to pull out the win with a good showing at the free-throw line in the extra period. FSU went 8 of 10 at the stripe in OT, while Virginia went just 1 of 4. That disparity at the free throw line combined with the 7-plus minute field goal drought (UVa didn’t score from the field after Joseph’s 3-pointer in regulation until he hit another jumper with 35.8 seconds to go) simply put the game out of reach.

A variety of factors seemed to contribute to the late-game slump by the Cavaliers, the greatest of which was the increased defensive presence of the Seminoles. FSU was all over the Cav ballhandlers and the visitors did a better job of collapsing with help defense. Hamilton pointed to a slight switch in the scheme in explaining his team’s defensive improvement.

“The players were saying we have to get stops because to be honest with you they were having their way with us there for a little while. They just buckled down and to be honest with you, what we did was start switching everything,” Hamilton said. “We realized we couldn’t help [enough on defense] so we just put a smaller line-up out there on the floor and switched everything and hoped we could do a better job containing them [that way] and it seemed to do a little better job than trying to guard them one on one.”

Leitao, meanwhile, pointed to offensive execution as the main culprit for the Cavaliers’ late struggles. After Joseph’s 3-pointer at 2:46, UVa had three different possessions late in regulation that could have sealed or won the game. Each time, however, the hosts came up empty.

“When you get down to times where you need quality shots and quality offense, you have to rely on your execution. Our execution as of late hasn’t been as sharp as it needs to be,” Leitao said. “When you get in critical situations such as when we were up 77-72 and we just started to get real vanilla and ended up at the end of the shot clock having to watch Sean.”

The final possession of regulation came with the score tied at 77. The Cavs had the ball for the final shot with a chance to take home the victory. The initial play seemed to be snuffed out by FSU when the visitors prevented Singletary from getting the inbounds pass. Still, Singletary found a way to get the basketball on the left wing on a dribble hand-off. He quickly turned the corner and got into the paint, but the defense collapsed to force a kick-out pass to Diane in the right corner.

Mamadi Diane shoots the final shot of regulation.

Diane, who said he didn’t think that the shot was tipped, came up short as the buzzer sounded.

“It was one of the options to stay wide in the corner,” Diane said. “I caught the ball and saw the defender coming out on me and I had no choice but to shoot, no pump fake or anything. So I had to try to make a high-arching shot over the defender.”

The loss for the Cavaliers overshadowed the return of guard T.J. Bannister, who had appeared in just two games (Fordham and Georgia Tech) before Wednesday night’s home game. Bannister made his first appearance in the first half after the under-12:00 media timeout and logged 18 minutes. He finished with no points, but 5 assists.

“It was a long process and it seemed like it took forever, but I just kept my faith in God and kept praying every night to get stronger and get healthy. His prayers came through because I am back out there trying to help my team in anyway I can and help Coach Leitao,” Bannister said.

  • Boxscore

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    Edge subscribers can listen to audio of Coach Leitao’s postgame press conference and interviews with Jason Cain, T.J. Bannister, and Mamadi Diane )

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