Sean Singletary and the Hoos started the ACC schedule with a victory over NCSU.
Virginia had its worst shooting night of the season on Sunday against N.C. State, making just 37.9% of its shots. Three starters combined for just 9 points. Plus, the Cavaliers made just 6 of 25 3-pointers so there wasn’t any long-range camouflage to hide the offensive woes.
The Hoos still managed to break an 11-game streak of ACC opening losses, though. How did they pull off the 67-62 win against the Wolfpack? A stark rebounding advantage (47-31), bench scoring (33 points), and a spirited response to a bad 30 minutes of basketball from J.R. Reynolds, that’s how.
If it wasn’t the prettiest game ever played, it’s exactly how Dave Leitao wanted his players to respond to their first loss of the season and a poor shooting night at home.
“What I told the team is three things are important today. One, I wanted to see how we responded after a loss. Two, we’re playing an ACC game and three, we’re playing an undefeated team. That was motivation enough,” Leitao said. “We talked about last year at Georgia Tech where we had a December game. Somebody is going to have bragging rights for a few weeks to be in first place and it might as well be us. … We get to say we’re in first place right now, which may or may not last throughout the season, but for where we’re at as a program right now, that’s not a bad thing.”
Indeed, the Cavaliers handed the Wolfpack their first loss of the season, but it wasn’t easy. The visitors battled throughout as the lead changed hands 18 times, including 16 flip-flops after intermission. They even had a partially open look at a 3-pointer in the final minute, but Brandon Costner ‘s 3-pointer fell by the wayside as Jason Cain managed to contest the look a the last possible moment.
That miss left the Pack in a 64-62 hole and they couldn’t get any closer in the final 45 seconds.
“We executed the play very well. Perfectly. … Brandon asked me ‘Coach, do you want me to shoot that?’” NCSU coach Sidney Lowe said. “Absolutely, absolutely. You’re a shooter and you shot the ball well early in the ball game. We felt we could get him a good look at it.”
Virginia produced that narrow two-point lead in the final minute thanks to a Sean Singletary jumper at the 1:03 mark. He used a ball screen from Cain and knocked down a 15-footer to give the Cavaliers the lead for good.
“It’s a shot I shoot a lot in practice. Even though I missed a lot of shots tonight, I didn’t worry because I know that I’m going to knock shots down eventually because I practice it so much,” said Singletary, who had 11 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals.
While Singletary’s shot gave the Hoos’ the decisive edge they needed, it was an improved offensive output in the final 16 minutes that gave the Cavaliers a chance. In a sluggish first 24 minutes, Virginia scored just 28 points; in the final 16, UVa poured in 39 points to rally from a 34-28 deficit early in the second half.
Will Harris and Adrian Joseph hit a couple of key shots to spark things following Dave Leitao’s timeout at 16:35. Harris hit two free throws, two shots in the paint on Singletary assists, and a 3-pointer during the four-minute stretch following the timeout. Joseph, who assisted on Harris’ 3-pointer, had an offensive putback and a pull-up jumper in the same time span as the Cavaliers got back in the game.
That spurt set up a see-saw battle until Reynolds re-entered the game with a proverbial chip on his shoulder. After scoring just one point in the first 30 minutes and sitting on the bench with three fouls for most of the second half, the senior shooting guard stepped up and took over the game in the final 7:15. At that point in the contest, a first-half free throw was the only thing on his scoring line.
By the end of the game, he had recorded 14 points as he scored 13 of the team’s final 22 points. That included a pair of critical 3-pointers. The first came with 7:12 remaining as he tied the score at 48, a shot that Reynolds followed with a glare toward the Virginia bench. Over the next several minutes, he commanded a lot of attention running off screens as the offense ran through him.
That eventually led to the second 3-pointer with 1:40 to play in the game, a shot that gave UVa a 62-61 lead; NCSU couldn’t get back on top after that despite knotting the game at 62-62 on the next possession. On the play, Reynolds caught the ball in the corner near the Cav bench and when he saw Courtney Fells playing defense with his hands down and a little bit of space, he pulled the trigger.
J.R. Reynolds scored 13 of the team’s final 22 points against N.C. State on Sunday.
“We thought we played well. We thought we put ourselves in position to win the game,” N.C. State’s Gavin Grant said. “Reynolds hit a big three in the corner in the last two minutes to put them up and then the crowd got going. We weren’t able to get back from that three and make the shots we needed to make.”
“When you’re on the road, you try to put yourselves in a position to win, and then you’ve got to make plays,” Lowe said. “And that’s what [UVa] did. They made big plays. Reynolds’ three in the corner – that was probably the biggest one. That really did it for us right there.”
While that shot got the attention of NCSU, the 3-pointer to start the run caught the eye of the Cavaliers. Leitao and Reynolds’ teammates said he was responding to the coach’s challenge to overcome what had been a bad game up until that point.
“I was in him pretty good and I think based on the Purdue game and practices, he’s trying to find his rhythm and I’ve been imploring him to find his rhythm. So, sometimes I don’t do that so nicely,” Leitao said. “He made a big 3 right along our bench on the sideline and as he ran by he stared at me. That’s the kind of response that I want. I want guys, if I’m on them, to in essence to come back at me by their play. Credit to him for doing that.”
“Coach issued a challenge to J.R. and J.R. stepped up to the challenge. J.R. came out and he made shots in the second half,” Harris said. “J.R. was just trying to let coach know, ‘I’m a player. I’m a player too.’ … Coach likes when we’re pushed and we push back. Coach looks for toughness and J.R. was pushed today so he pushed back. And he won.”
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