Deacons Drop Hoos

Sean Singletary ‘s 25 points weren’t enough to lift Virginia to victory.

In the end, the ACC road woes that have plagued Virginia for more than a decade cost the Cavaliers the outright regular season ACC Championship. The Hoos were looking for their first .500 or better ACC road record since 1994-95, but Wake Forest squashed those plans on Saturday with the 78-72 victory.

UVa’s 1994-95 team finished with a 5-3 road record in league play and the Cavaliers have faltered since. Only two teams have even flirted with .500 in the past 12 years – the 1999-2000 team and this year’s team both won three ACC road games, but fell short in the their final road tests.

On Saturday, The Demon Deacons placed four players in double figures to leave UVa with an 11-5 league record. The Hoos will still own at least a share of the title, but the loss at Wake Forest essentially ended the dreams of being No. 1 alone. The Cavaliers were trying to win their first outright regular season ACC Championship since 1981.

“They played with more of a sense of urgency than we did,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network after the game. “Obviously, we had our chances [but] I called a timeout down 5-0 and from that point, I never really felt that we had control of the game from a physical or mental standpoint.”

Indeed, the Cavaliers struggled nearly the whole afternoon. They couldn’t find an offensive rhythm and couldn’t make outside shots. That led to a 35.9% shooting day, which included a nightmarish 5-of-20 outing from 3-point land. J.R. Reynolds, Mamadi Diane , and Adrian Joseph , who combined for six 3-pointers against Virginia Tech on Thursday, shot 0 for 12 from beyond the arc on Saturday afternoon.

To make matters worse, the defense was lagging behind as well. Wake Forest only shot 36.7% on the afternoon, but the Cavaliers’ D seemed a step behind – both mentally and physically – throughout the game. That led to a Wake Forest free throw parade. The Demon Deacons made 27 of 43 free throws.

The Hoos’ defensive breakdowns also cost them at critical times. With the scored tied at 62, Virginia gave up back-to-back uncontested 3-pointers. Harvey Hale made the first and Jamie Skeen drained the second. Sandwiched around a Sean Singletary jumper, those two treys gave Wake Forest a 68-64 advantage.

That left the visitors in a hole for the final four minutes, which they couldn’t overcome. Jason Cain made 1 of 2 free throws followed by a Virginia stop to cut the lead to 68-65. Singletary then made 1 of 2 free throws to trim the lead to two at 68-66. But the Deacs again answered on offense when Ishmael Smith drove the lane and shuffled a pass back to a weaving L.D. Williams for the 15-foot jumper. That bucket pushed the lead to 70-66. After the Cavs failed to score on their end, Smith again drove into the defense – this time he dropped off a pass to Kyle Visser for a two-handed dunk, making the score 72-66. From there, UVa’s last-minute rally fell short.

The critical drive and dish from Smith was a reflection of the whole day. Smith often broke down the Cavaliers’ defense and found open teammates. He finished with 8 assists, three of which came down the stretch – the Skeen 3-pointer, Williams’ jumper, and Visser dunk all came courtesy of Smith’s penetration and passing.

“It wasn’t just late, it was the whole game long – he got where he wanted to go,” Leitao said. “Late in the game, guys made plays for him but all game long, he was getting into our defense.”

The loss leaves the Cavaliers in “wait and see” mode for the ACC Tournament. They have clinched a first round bye so they will sit out Thursday’s action no matter what. However, the Hoos will not know their seed until Sunday’s regular season games are completed.

Regardless, the remaining games this season all have added meaning because postseason play has arrived.

“From now on out, including today, the games have a very high meaning to them,” Leitao said. “From now on, nothing about tomorrow is promised. You have to lay it all out there. If you don’t, you have disappointing ends. You have to be prepared mentally as well as physically for the situations like that.”


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