UVa’s Sean Singletary scored 23 points in the loss to N.C. State.
The Virginia men’s basketball team has had its share of comebacks this season. At Clemson. Arizona, N.C. State, Duke, Georgia Tech at home. In the ACC Tournament Quarterfinals on Friday night, the Wolfpack returned the favor early in the second half. The 10th-seeded Wolfpack overcame a 14-point deficit and survived a late-game surge to oust the second-seeded Hoos, 79-71.
It was the second straight tourney win for NCSU, which bounced Duke on Thursday night in overtime. Perhaps the only people who aren’t surprised by the back-to-back wins are the Wolfpack.
“We came here to win the tournament, we didn’t come because we had to be in the tournament,” N.C. State’s Gavin Grant said. “We beat [North] Carolina this year, we beat Virginia Tech twice, and those are two teams that were at the top of the league. I thought throughout the year we were immature at times and that’s why we lost a couple of games we shouldn’t have lost, but guys like Brandon [Costner] and Ben [McCauley] and Courtney [Fells] are really maturing in front of our eyes and that’s why we were able to win a lot of games.”
For Virginia, the loss added to more than a decade of ACC Tournament frustration. In prime position to advance to the weekend semifinals for the first time since the 1994-95 season, the Cavaliers crumbled in the second half as foul trouble and hot N.C. State shooting caught up with the Hoos. In the end, the Pack made 17 of 23 shots after intermission, which included a 6-of-9 showing from behind the 3-point line. They also canned 13 of 15 free throws in the second half.
UVa, on the other hand, couldn’t score. The team combined to shoot 8 of 25 after intermission, which included a 3-of-10 showing from 3-point range.
“I thought we got thoroughly outplayed in the second half. They continued to shoot the ball well, but the reason they shot the ball well was because we stopped defending. We stopped doing the things we had been doing in the first half,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. “They become very, very dangerous because they have five guys on the court that one, control the tempo and so it becomes a little more difficult to wear them down, and two, they spread the ball around and share it. When they do that, it makes it a lot more difficult. When we started to give up the lead, what you need is a response. We just took our medicine and never responded. As a result, the score is only an indication of our lack of energy, or whatever adjective you want to use. Especially obviously in that second half.”
While the Cavaliers didn’t have enough answers, they did put up a brief fight – they just couldn’t land enough punches. First, UVa answered the Wolfpack’s initial second-half surge. NCSU came out of the locker room and cut a 40-26 deficit to 43-39 in a matter of moments when McCauley dunked on interior pass. But Virginia responded to the 13-3 run with a 7-0 burst of its own as Adrian Joseph scored five straight points and Sean Singletary added a pair of free throws.
The 50-39 lead wouldn’t last, though.
Dave Leitao’s team gave up 53 points in the second half.
N.C. State again surged behind a Fells’ dunk and three Engin Atsur free throws, which came when Singletary was whistled for his third foul in contesting the outside shot. That cut the lead to 50-44 before Costner followed with an offensive rebound and putback to trim it to four. Moments later, Costner drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 52. Then, Costner found McCauley for a dunk and NCSU had the lead, which it built to 60-54 and 67-61.
That’s when UVa seemed to have one of its 2007 “Cardiac Cav” runs in store. First, Diane drove and hit a twisting lay-up to cut the lead to 67-63. Virginia then forced a State turnover and J.R. Reynolds knocked down a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 67-66. The Hoos forced a jumpball and a near turnover on the defensive end, but Jason Cain was called for his fifth foul on a loose ball scramble to prevent a clean stop. Still, McCauley only made 1 of 2 freebies and the Pack lead stood at just two, 68-66.
On the offensive end, Diane caught a pass and made a strong move to the paint. He collided with Bryan Nieman while shooting and the shot trickled in for the apparent tie with a foul to boot. But, unfortunately the whistle erased the play with a charge call and N.C. State’s Grant essentially put the game out of reach with a score on the other end.
“I thought that was a great ball game for both ball clubs. I think we certainly played a lot better in the second half, we made a few adjustments defensively, and more important I guess offensively. We shot 73 percent in the second half which got us up to 53 percent for the game, and I thought our defense was much better,” NCSU coach Sidney Lowe said. “They shot 32 percent in that second half. We had several guys who just picked it up and played well for us. One guy in particular …, who made probably some of the biggest plays of the night, was Bryan Nieman with the charge that he took, got his hand on a loose ball, stole the pass that gave us momentum, and then these two gentlemen beside me [Brandon Costner , Gavin Grant] of course played a pretty good ball game.”
Indeed, Costner and Grant were the difference on the scoreboard. Costner made 6 of 13 shots to score 22 points; he also had 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Grant, meanwhile, finished with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
For Virginia, Singletary scored 23 points, 16 of which came in the first half. He also had 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Reynolds added 11 points on just 3-of-15 shooting. Diane chipped in with 10 points.
“The conference is pretty tough. Any night, any team can win. If you don’t bring your game, you’re probably going to be in trouble. We played good for a half, but we didn’t seal the deal,” Singletary said. “So they came out with a lot more energy than us in the second half. From the first play on, they won most of the possessions throughout the half and that’s why they won the game.”
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