Defensive Effort Helps Hoos Top NCSU

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Sean Singletary had 21 points, 7 steals, and 6 assists in the win against N.C. State.

The Virginia men’s basketball team dominated the defensive end of the floor for the first 20 minutes and visiting N.C. State never fully recovered Sunday as the Cavaliers took the 78-60 victory. Just how dominant was the first-half performance? Heck, it even impressed Dave Leitao, a notorious stickler when it comes to defense.

“At the very least for this year, if not for the previous two, for the first 20 minutes that was as good a defensive display against very talented players as we’ve had. To give up 18 points and to get that many steals and turnovers was pleasing,” said Leitao, whose team won back-to-back ACC games for the first time this year. “Our hands were all over the place. We were pressuring the ball without fouling. We were putting a lot of pressure on the interior guys. We were rotating on the backside pretty well. We did a really good job of being in the right position without getting caught and having to foul.”

“I guess it is very tough to win a game when you turn the ball over 25 times, especially in the first half with 17 turnovers,” N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. “We did not take care of the ball, [Virginia] was very aggressive, they played really solid aggressive defense, and smart defense because they only had two fouls with six or seven minutes left in the first half. So they were playing very good defense, aggressive and active, and we turned it over 17 times. That was really the difference in the ball game.”

The smothering defensive effort produced 11 steals in the first half as NCSU struggled with 17 turnovers. The Wolfpack shot just 27.3% (6 of 22) in the half, making two of those attempts in the final seconds of the shot clock. One telling stat is that 4 of the 6 made field goals were 3-pointers as the Cavs prevented State’s inside players – namely J.J. Hickson (7 points) and Ben McCauley (9 points) – from getting comfortable near the basket.

The key to slowing down the interior was pressuring the exterior. Sparked by a tenacious Sean Singletary effort (he had six steals in the first half) on the Pack’s point guards, the Hoos’ perimeter players locked down the N.C. State wings. Their defensive play made post feeds difficult and driving lanes crowded.

Calvin Baker, who had 15 points and 6 rebounds, said the Hoos “were active on defense.”

“There is no question about it, [Singletary’s pressure on the guards] had an impact on the game,” Lowe said. “He is a very experienced player along with being extremely talented. That first half, from a defensive standpoint, he took us out of a couple plays we were trying to run just by pressuring the guys and being up on them – just being aggressive with it. He can affect the game that way, from a defensive standpoint and an offensive standpoint.”

“We were active on defense. We had a lot of deflections and a lot of steals. Everybody knew his role,” UVa guard Calvin Baker said. “Coach Leitao said that was the best defense he has seen Virginia play in his three years here.”

The other key factor? Weakside rotations. The Cavaliers, who have struggled with slow or over-aggressive rotations at times this season, consistently turned up in the right spot on Sunday. That meant most shots were contested and many passes were bothered, which threw the visitors out of rhythm time after time.

In the end, Virginia produced 16 steals (the most since Dec. 30, 2000 against Dartmouth) to set a John Paul Jones Arena record. State’s 18 first-half points and 25 total turnovers also set new JPJ marks. NCSU recovered to win the second-half 42-40, even cutting the lead to 14 points at one juncture, but it was far too little late. By the time the Pack started to find themselves on offense in the final 15 minutes, the lead had grown to 27 points.

“We had good on-the-ball pressure and the key was the guys off the ball and how they were guarding their man. N.C. State had to make decisions and with our pressure it was tough for them to make good decisions,” Singletary said. “I guess you can call it picture perfect in terms of the positioning we had on defense. Guys were energetic and communicating off the ball and things like that. Anytime you do that, you’ll be in good shape.”

Singletary finished with 7 steals in the game, the season’s high for any player in the ACC. Those thefts also matched a UVa single game record; Curtis Staples (Tenn.-Martin, 1995), Richard Morgan (Mississippi State, 1988), Scott McCandlish (Xavier, 1971), and Othell Wilson (Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, 1984) all achieved the feat as well. Singletary now has 187 career steals, just two behind Jeff Jones the first and Chris Williams on the career charts at Virginia.

“I didn’t know that. If I had known that during the game, I probably could have gotten one more,” Singletary said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of history in this program. I’m just happy to keep it going.”

The defensive success sparked the offense as well. The Cavs finished with 25 points off turnovers, including 17 in the first half when they built a 38-18 halftime lead. In the end, Virginia shot 46.5% from the field and five different players scored at least 9 points. Singletary led the way with 21 points; he also had six assists. Baker added 15 points and 6 rebounds. Adrian Joseph , Mamadi Diane , and Jeff Jones the second all posted 9 points in the game.

“We are a transition team, and when we get turnovers and steals, it gets us going on offense,” Baker said. “As a result, we play good on defense.”

Statistics | UVa Media Relations Notes

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