Calvin Baker scored 5 points in the final minute, including the game-winning 3-pointer.
At long last.
After a tumultuous January and a schedule dotted with close losses, the Virginia men’s basketball team finally climbed from the ACC cellar on Monday night for the first time this season. Calvin Baker’s 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds remaining – courtesy of a Sean Singletary assist – lifted the Hoos past Georgia Tech, 76-74, in a game rescheduled from February due to a leaky roof. The win was the program’s first at GT since 2002.
For UVa, which moved past N.C. State and Boston College in the league standings with the win, it felt good to grab a close victory after losing six conference games either by 2 points or less or in overtime.
“Definitely, the feeling after a two-point win and a two-point loss, you can tell the difference in the locker room,” Baker said on the Virginia Sports Network. “Everybody is already happy. The plane ride is going to be way better than it was from Miami.”
The Cavaliers’ close win followed a see-saw battle between the two teams as the lead changed hands 14 times in the contest. Fortunately for Virginia, its end of the see-saw was up on the final flip as the team – especially Singletary and Baker – came up with enough key plays in the final minute to get a win.
First, Singletary drained two free throws with 58.1 seconds to play to cut the GT lead to 72-71. On the other end of the floor, Lars Mikalauskas, who had another big game, cut off the drive attempt of Zack Peacock (23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists) and Singletary stepped in to steal the kick-out pass to the corner. The senior guard quickly pushed the ball up the floor for a reverse left-handed lay-up attempt, but the ball glanced off the rim. Baker followed the play down the floor, however, and tipped the ball in with his left hand to give UVa a 73-72 lead.
Singletary and Baker weren’t done yet. After Tech’s Jeremis Smith (7 points, 6 rebounds) drove in for the go-ahead basket at 74-73 with 11 seconds to play, Singletary took the inbounds pass and quickly dribbled the ball up the floor. He attacked the paint and drew all five Yellow Jacket defenders to the area before pitching the ball out to Baker on the wing in front of Virginia’s bench. Baker nailed the 3-point shot with 4.2 ticks on the clock and UVa took home the win after a final attempt by Maurice Miller (7 points, 6 assists) fell short.
“Coach Leitao said we have to do whatever it takes to win,” Baker said. “He said don’t worry about him, don’t worry about Georgia Tech, don’t worry about nothing – he said just go out there and play and if you do what you’re supposed to do, good things are going to happen. So I just kept playing hard.”
“I almost with 11 seconds to go started to call a timeout, but fortunately we’ve done that a couple of times over the last couple of weeks in practice where we had a situation and just let Sean go,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “Most of the time, Sean is going to get to the rim. They had three or four guys collapse around him and the smart thing to do was pass the ball and Calvin had enough stick-to-itiveness to confidently step up and make that shot, which was great on his behalf.”
Sean Singletary gutted his way to 17 points, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
Singletary’s two points, one steal, and one assist in the final minute capped another strong statistical night for the senior. Despite playing in noticeable pain, he finished with 17 points (15 after halftime), 6 assists, and 3 steals. The steals move him up Virginia’s career charts; he is now second on the steals list with 191, surpassing Jeff Jones the first and Chris Williams with 189. Singletary has also scored in double figures for 49 straight games, the longest active streak in the ACC. He also moved into 49th all-time on the ACC’s scoring list with 1,957, passing Wake Forest’s Justin Gray.
Baker’s five points in the final minute gave him 10 on the night. He added 7 rebounds (ACC career high), 4 steals, and 4 assists as well. The senior guard also handled the ball frequently to get Virginia in its offense as GT spent much of the evening face-guarding Singletary. Mikalauskas joined the Cavs’ backcourt duo in double figures with 15 points while also adding 7 rebounds and 1 steal. Mamadi Diane was the fourth Cavalier in double figures with 10 points; he had 6 rebounds and 1 block as well.
Mikalauskas said it was frustrating watching the team’s struggles while he was out rehabilitating a shoulder injury, but he learned from the experience.
“Just by watching and learning from my teammates and stuff, I saw we had opportunities to score inside and I thought someone needed to take advantage so I thought it was a good time for me to step in there,” Mikalauskas said on the Regional Sports Network broadcast.
Virginia is 3-2 in the five games since Mikalauskas returned to the line-up, losing to likely NCAA qualifiers in North Carolina (by one) and at Miami (by two). Leitao said the junior post player has provided an emotional boost to the team while also helping the interior defense improve – Georgia Tech’s Gani Lawal , for example, logged just 5 points and 3 rebounds Monday after posting 15 and 6 in Charlottesville earlier this season with Mikalauskas out of the line-up.
“Energy. … His energy, particularly on the offensive backboards, has been very, very critical for us,” Leitao said. “We’ve got to clean [the interior defense up still]. We’ve got to do a better job of supporting each other and not just putting that one post defender on the hook to play defense one on one so we’ve still got a number of things we have to clean up that way. But I think it’s gotten better as we’ve gotten better rotations since Lars has come back. Overall, the interior defense has taken a step up.”