Cavaliers Chop Down Clemson

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Sylven Landesberg and Sammy Zeglinski celebrate an overtime victory

The Virginia men’s basketball team put together one of its most complete efforts of the season on Sunday. Good shooting. Check. Good defense. Check. Poise under pressure. Check. The reward proved to be an 85-81 overtime win against No. 12 Clemson that provided an appropriate backdrop for the day Virginia retired Sean Singletary ‘s number.

The Cavalier players celebrated after the final horn with large smiles and flying chest-bumps. Coach Dave Leitao said the mood was similar in the locker room moments later.

“They were happy obviously. They were joyful and congratulating each other,” Leitao said. “It is something we have to continue to do. We cannot let adversity affect us emotionally.”

“First of all, it was our first win in a few games. Second of all it was against a top-15 team. So it feels really good,” UVa freshman Sylven Landesberg said.

Sylven Landesberg has scored in double figures in 17 of the Hoos’ 21 games this season.

Not surprisingly, Landesberg had a significant role in the Hoos’ upset victory. Statistically, he poured in 23 points on 11-of-21 shooting and added 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists. Landesberg has scored at least 20 points 12 times this season and has reached double figures in 17 of the 21 games.

Landesberg, who became the first Cavalier since Singletary in 2005 to play every minute of a game, saved some of his best stuff for the stretch drive. First, just moments after a shot in the paint missed to his surprise, Landesberg hit the game-tying shot near the end of regulation

On the play, UVa set up a high ball screen situation where Jamil Tucker set the screen with Jeff Jones located in the corner that the play was designed for Landesberg to drive toward. The general plan is to give him room with a screen plus space to attack the basket with a shooter in the corner and a shooter popping after screening. As it turns out, that’s not how it unfolded. On the play, Clemson switched the ball screen so Landesberg reversed course and essentially created offense off the dribble with the other four Cavalier players settled low near the baseline. He got all the way to the rim for a lay-up that tied the score at 74.

“It wasn’t planned like that at all. I was supposed to come off the screen, and get a shooter in the corner, but they switched on the screen, so I had to attack,” he said.

That’s exactly why Leitao said he places the ball in his hands in those sorts of situations (and more frequently in general as of late) – because Landesberg is the team’s best off-the-dribble player with the most attack-minded mentality. He delivered not only the key basket near the end of regulation, he also made two big buckets in overtime.

“We continue to go to him. He has proven this early in his career that he is not only a really good player but also a big money player,” Leitao said. “He played unselfishly and found people open on the fast break. He has the confidence and the skills and I was happy he was able to make that basket at the end of the game.”

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell touched on why opponents have had trouble slowing down Landesberg’s scoring.

“He is a very good athlete. He’s got great ball skills. He has like a point guard hand on the ball and he knows what he wants to do. He is a great driver and a great and-one guy,” Purnell said. “He’s got a good touch. He doesn’t have to get all the way to the rim to score – he can shoot that little floater. He also has size and athleticism.”

Mike Scott recorded his seventh double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

While the Cavs’ standout rookie had another strong outing, it was far from a one-man effort. The hosts placed 5 players in double figures for the first time since the Georgia Tech game, the team’s only other ACC win of the season. Mike Scott produced 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 assists; it is Scott’s seventh double-double of the season and his career-high scoring mark for a league contest. Sammy Zeglinski added 15 points and 6 assists while Jeff Jones chipped in 12 points and 3 assists; Jones, in particular, provided the offensive spark in the first half by scoring 10 points. Rounding out the quintet was Jamil Tucker , who added 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 block.

As a whole, the Cavaliers shot 53.1% for the game by making 34 of 64 shots. That shooting performance ranks second on the season, falling just behind the 54.4% shooting effort against VMI. On the year, UVa has cracked 50% just four times. It’s worth noting that some of the success can be attributed to the fullcourt pressure applied by the Keydets and Tigers. If you can handle the pressure up front, then you can often find good scoring opportunities on the backside of the press. Purnell indicated after the game that not protecting the basket in the press was part of the reason Clemson came up short.

Leitao, whose team held the Tigers to 25 points in the first half (second lowest first half output of the season) and 43.1% shooting for the game, had similar thoughts.

“We got some open looks today and tried to stay aggressive. When you break the pressure you have to look to score,” Leitao said. “If you have open looks from behind the 3-point line you have to trust yourself. I am happy that we persevered through all of this today.”

Indeed, perseverance seems like a good word to use to describe Sunday’s contest for Virginia. The Hoos survived a second-half push from Clemson that featured 51.5% shooting (17 of 33), a 12-0 run in the first 2:28 after intermission, and the final possession of regulation that featured at least three shots inside of 12 feet.

Fortunately for UVa, none of those things added up to another loss. The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak, the program’s longest since 1998. In a coincidental quirk, both streaks ended against Clemson in overtime by four points. It’s safe to say that the Hoos are happy to get the victory no matter how it happened.

“It feels good to have this monkey off our back,” Zeglinski said. “We’re going to come in Wednesday night with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy, and we’re going to compete.”

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