N.C. State Holds Off Virginia

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Dave Leitao’s squad couldn’t come up with its third win of the week.

Thanks to sluggish starts to both halves in Raleigh, the Virginia men’s basketball team’s quest to win three games in seven days fell short against N.C. State on Saturday. The Wolfpack opened each half with big runs to build double digit leads and the Cavaliers could not complete comeback attempts as they dropped the game 72-67. UVa’s record stands at 9-14 and 3-9 in the ACC.

Cav coach Dave Leitao said his team didn’t play with the kind of energy it needs.

“The disappointing part … [is] what we had been doing in practice or had been doing in games, we really didn’t do today and we didn’t come with the same kind of energy and passion,” Leitao told the Virginia Sports Network. “I thought we had gotten past that and thought we had learned our lesson.”

“The thing about competition is consistency,” he later told reporters. “The most difficult thing for coaches is knowing what each guy is going to do every day.”

In the first half, poor ball movement, poor ball handling, and missed shots quickly left Virginia on the wrong end of a 17-point deficit. How bad was it? In the first 10 minutes of the half, UVa had more turnovers, 7, than points, 4, which resulted in a 21-4 hole.

But the Hoos didn’t hide in that hole. They battled back. Over the next several minutes, the Cavaliers strung together a 21-7 scoring burst that cut the deficit to 31-27. The two teams appeared to switch roles midway through the half. After UVa opened 1 of 12 from the floor, it made 9 of its next 13 shots. On the flipside, NCSU made 10 of 16 attempts to start the game before finishing just 2 of the next 10.

The final seconds of the half, however, provided a bit of foreshadowing for the Hoos. They would get close, but never close enough to tie or take the lead. The telling sequence? UVa scored a lay-up on an inbounds play to pull within one basket at 31-29, but N.C. State immediately blew up the court to score an uncontested lay-up just before the buzzer.

It seemed somewhat inconsequential at the time, but a similar refrain followed in the second half. The Pack opened with a 9-2 run and created another huge lead. And while the Cavaliers battled back again, each time they built some momentum, they quickly handed it back with defensive breakdowns and forced shots or turnovers.

Look no further than NCSU’s 60% shooting in the second half to find proof of the problem. On an individual level, C.J. Williams hit a critical 3-pointer in the final minutes that was a microcosm of his day – 4-of-6 shooting on 3s, all of which seemed to happen at timely moments. He finished with 16 points.

Leitao said his team isn’t to the point where it can expect to overcome a shaky mentality and big leads.

“I’m disappointed. We had opportunities and we didn’t execute. We tried to dig out of holes, but we were playing uphill most of the game,” Leitao said. “N.C. State was a challenge because they have so many people that they can go to on offense. I told our guys it could be anybody, so that got us into trouble defensively, and we weren’t on top offensively either.”

Mamadi Diane had 11 points off the bench.

Adding to the Cavaliers’ issues was a strong defensive effort by State against freshman Sylven Landesberg . Using a variety of defenders, particularly the length and experienced play of Courtney Fells, the Wolfpack slowed his driving ability. That helped the hosts contain his scoring for most of the afternoon, especially during the second-half stretch where they re-established a double-digit lead.

“He hit some big free throws down the stretch. I was very impressed with his defense,” NCSU coach Sidney Lowe said. “He had been chasing [Landesburg] all day, but he wanted to be in the ball game. At one point I was going to take him out but he wanted to stay on the floor.”

In the end, Landesberg still found a way to be productive, including two 3-pointers in the final five minutes. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals but made just 4 of 14 shots; he also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity with 3.5 seconds to go that prevented any attempt of a miracle finish that would have included intentionally missing the second freebie. UVa missed 6 free throws as a team (12 of 18).

With Landesberg struggling to find points for a portion of the second half, the Hoos got a boost from senior Mamadi Diane , who had not played during the team’s two wins earlier in the week. Diane dumped in 11 points, including a key 3-pointer and key jumper on an inbounds play to make things interesting down the stretch. Leitao said after the game he had been looking for opportunities to work Diane back into the rotation after the wing showed positive signs in recent practices.

The only other player joining Landesberg and Diane in double figures was Calvin Baker, who had 13 points to with 5 assists and 3 steals. Jeff Jones had 9 points, while Mike Scott finished with 8.

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