Sylven Landesberg sat the final 12:28 of the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Since Sylven Landesberg arrived at UVa, Cavalier opponents – non-conference and conference alike – have tried to figure out how to stop him. And a more consistent version of Mike Scott this season has given the Hoos something of an inside-outside combo, making them even more difficult to guard.
As Wake Forest found out Saturday, one way to keep the Cavaliers at bay is to get that duo off the floor.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett pulled Landesberg after he picked up his second foul with 12:28 left in the opening period; just after the eight-minute mark, Scott also found a spot on the bench after committing his second personal. With both players riding the pine, the Hoos went the rest of the half without a field goal, scoring just a single point. The result was a season-low 15 first-half points and a season-high 19-point halftime deficit from which the Cavaliers never recovered. Virginia fell to earth with an ugly first conference loss of the season at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum, suffering a 69-57 setback against the Demon Deacons.
“I think we got outplayed early and often,” Bennett said. “They were really aggressive. They kind of hit us in the mouth on the offensive glass, and we had way too many breakdowns defensively, and I think that affected us.”
In the moments after Landesberg committed his second foul by reaching in on a Wake Forest rebounder, Virginia, in fact, looked like it might be okay. Trailing by nine when Landesberg left the floor, the Cavaliers mounted an 8-3 run capped by a hustle play from Will Sherill to dive for a loose ball, leading to a lay-up from Scott to cut the lead to 18-14.
Less than a minute later, however, Scott was called for an offensive foul, and the Cavaliers hit rock bottom. Without Scott, the Hoos had nary a post presence against the likes of Al-Farouq Aminu and Chas McFarland. Without Landesberg, Virginia had little penetration and, to boot, the shots and even the free throws that had been falling in previous game rimmed out. As a backbreaking 3-pointer at the buzzer from C.J. Harris sent Wake Forest into halftime on a 16-1 run, the Demon Deacon crowd was into the game inasmuch as Virginia was out of it.
Mike Scott and Sylven Landesberg could only watch from the bench as Wake Forest went on a 16-1 run in the final eight minutes of the first half.
“When they started running the lead up, it got very frustrating, the fact that I had to just watch from the bench,” Landesberg said, adding that he and Scott “were talking on the bench to each other, and I was telling him, ‘In the second half, we’ve got to come out and have big second halves to be able to stay in the game, just to be able to compete.'”
Bennett said that he hoped to keep the margin close even without his top two scorers in the game at the end of the half, but admitted that he would “reconsider” his decision if such a scenario were to arise again.
“As soon as I came out after the second foul, I told [Bennett] I was good, I could play through the situation,” Landesberg said. “But he told me, ‘We’ll see how it goes.’ And then, I think with six minutes left, he said, ‘You know what, we’ll just save you for the second half.'”
“With maybe two-and-a-half, three minutes left, we said, ‘Boy, to put Sylven in now might be foolish if he picked one up,'” Bennett said. “I might have to reconsider thinking about that. It’s something that you just try and have a feel for.”
On the other hand, with the exception of a late run to cut the final margin to a respectable 11 points, it’s not as if Virginia had many good stretches even with Landesberg and Scott in the game. Wake Forest’s Pack-Line defense – which coach Dino Gaudio adopted from Dick Bennett, Tony Bennett’s father – was far superior to the Hoos’ version. Wake held the Hoos to 33.8 percent shooting from the field and 23.8 percent from the 3-point line; with the Demon Deacons leading by 21 points after 33 minutes, Virginia’s field goal percentage numbers were 24.5 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively.
The Cavaliers’ point totals at game’s end do not look too unappealing – 18 points for Landesberg and 10 apiece for Jeff Jones and Mustapha Farrakhan . Much of that production, however, was garnered in a desperate second-half run that never really threatened the hosts – with seven minutes remaining, Landesberg’s 14 points was more than double that of any other Cavalier.
“They do [the Pack-Line] well with their length, and this is their third year of playing this system defensively,” Bennett said. “There just aren’t as many holes in it as I saw on our end. As you get better defensively, your anticipation gets better, and you understand the focus of it, and they certainly did a nice job. I think my dad would probably disown me and claim Dino as his son after this game.”
Virginia’s Pack-Line, meanwhile, was riddled with holes, allowing the Demon Deacons to shoot 52.3 percent for the game, which included percentages north of 50 percent in both halves. McFarland was the receiver of all-too-easy lobs to the basket in the early going and he finished with 16 points. Ishmael Smith maneuvered nearly wherever he wanted on the offensive end, finishing with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting while adding six assists. Aminu, meanwhile, was content to do most of his damage on the boards, as his 10-and-10 night spearheaded an overall 42-29 rebounding advantage for Wake.
“I thought the ball pressure wasn’t very good – the ball got too deep, out of position,” Bennett said. “At times, we didn’t help on screens. At times, we didn’t get back. At times, we didn’t block out. It wasn’t just one thing that I could point to – it was too many. And a good team exploits you, that’s a credit to the way they attacked us. But for us to be competitive, you can’t have that many. I thought it was all of those things that we needed to be very good at to have a chance on the road in this setting.”
Despite the ugly loss, the Cavaliers can still be comforted by the conference standings, in which they are tied with Maryland atop the ACC. And in the coming week, the Cavaliers have the chance to remain in first place with a home game against Virginia Tech and a road game at UNC.
And, what’s more, the Hoos get another shot at Wake Forest on Feb. 6 in Charlottesville. If Virginia can keep its top two scorers on the floor – not to mention make a sizeable improvement defensively – perhaps it can at least make the game competitive for its duration.
“We all know that this was a game we could have won – like I said, foul trouble was a big factor in the game,” Landesberg said. “They have to come back to Charlottesville. So we’re still confident in ourselves, still confident that we’re one of the better teams out there.”