Sylven Landesberg scored 32 points, a career high.
At halftime of the Virginia-Boston College men’s basketball game on Wednesday night, hypnotist Tom Silver barked into the microphone that his subjects would fall asleep on the count of three. It normally may be an impressive feat, but in this case he was late to the show – UVa had rocked the crowd to sleep for most of 20 minutes already with poor offense and frequently porous defense en route to a 20-point halftime deficit.
In other words, it was déjà vu all over again. Another sluggish start, another late awakening, and another loss, this time an 80-70 setback against the Eagles. The Cavaliers have dropped six straight games and have just one win to date in 2009. And things aren’t getting any easier with road trips to North Carolina and Florida State next on the schedule.
“I’m obviously extremely disappointed in our performance today. We spent the last two days preparing both on the court and mentally understanding what it took to be successful and I think those first 20 minutes we got absolutely none of it,” said Virginia coach Dave Leitao, whose team trailed by double digits at the half for the fifth consecutive game. “We continued to get ourselves in a deep hole”
While the script played out the same in Wednesday’s contest, the cast of characters – at least in the second half – was different. Leitao shifted to a small ball line-up and 3-2 zone after intermission and it helped fuel a comeback attempt. The on-floor quintet with the change featured Sylven Landesberg at point guard, Calvin Baker at shooting guard (or both at combo guard), Jeff Jones at small forward, Solomon Tat at power forward, and Assane Sene at center. Everyone but Tat played the full 20 minutes after intermission; Tat played 19 before fouling out.
Offensively, Landesberg did much of the ballhandling and initiated the offense while Jones, Baker, and Tat were left to play around the wings with Sene down low. Defensively, the zone alignment started with Landesberg at the top, Jones and Baker on the wings, and Tat and Sene on the blocks.
Still, Leitao says he didn’t make the shift to catch BC off guard or to try a fast and furious line-up. The move was in search of players that would play hard and with passion,
“[I chose] five guys that I thought would play with the most energy. They played the whole half. It wasn’t fatigue, they were more energized than I think we were in the first half,” Leitao said. “I wasn’t really interested in playing anybody who wasn’t going to play the game in the right way.”
The players echoed their coach.
“We really weren’t sure we were going with the smaller group. He just wanted us to play aggressive, so he picked a couple of guys because he wanted us to play zone and just play with passion,” Tat said. “That’s why we were all out there, the five guys that were on the floor.”
Jeff Jones was one of four Cavaliers to play all 20 minutes in the second half.
For a team that often struggles with man-to-man defensive rotations, the zone line-up seemed to breathe some life into the Cavaliers. They were better in the passing lanes, a little faster on rotations, and collapsed more quickly when needed. Of course, there’s always a flipside and the combination of a small ball line-up and a zone defense did cost the Hoos on the backboards. BC pulled down seven second-half offensive rebounds, two more than it did in the first half; several of the boards came at important moments as the Cavs tried to make a surge. Still, despite the handful of key boards in the second half, the Eagles didn’t dominate the glass. Against the more standard line-up and man-to-man look of the first half, BC outrebounded UVa 19-11. After halftime, Boston College’s edge was only 22-21.
Jones said the zone gave the Hoos a different look.
“We’ve got a lot of length out there,” he said. “Definitely having a big guard out in front gives us a lot of length and makes a lot of deflections with our long arms so we did a good job in the 3-2.”
All in all, the Cavaliers who got the second-half call took advantage of the situation. Jones had 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals while Sene recorded 4 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the second half. Baker’s line after intermission featured 8 points, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. Landesberg, meanwhile, excelled the most by producing 26 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block in the second half while committing just one turnover. Landesberg finished with a career-high 32 points, the first 30-point game by a Virginia freshman since Chris Williams scored 34 points against Liberty in 1998.
“I’ve got to look at him a little bit more as a primary ballhandler because he didn’t really turn it over and he tries more than anybody else on the team to go north and south,” Leitao said of Landesberg.
Boston College coach Al Skinner said his team didn’t handle the zone as well as in past games this season and got caught up in a scoreboard-watching mode instead of executing.
“Their zone defense was somewhat effective. We didn’t execute as well as we should have. We did not recognize the opportunities that were available to us. We were playing very patient, very passive on the offensive end. We weren’t attacking like we were initially and like we have normally against zones,” Skinner said. “We normally are a pretty good zone offense team. It was very disturbing to see us play so passively, but I understand a little bit why because we had the lead and young teams sometimes do that.”
Unfortunately for UVa, the Eagles weren’t nearly as passive in the first half. The visitors shot a blistering 68.2% in building their 42-22 halftime lead. On the other end, they held the Cavaliers to 21.4% shooting as well. To put it in perspective, BC missed just seven shots in the first half while Virginia made just six.
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