Sammy Zeglinski knocked down a miraculous 3-point field goal to send Virginia’s contest with Virginia Tech to overtime, but it was not enough.
When Sammy Zeglinski stepped back near the painted Wachovia logo on the floor of the John Paul Jones Arena and knocked down a step-back, contested 3-pointer with two seconds remaining – a shot with an absurd level of difficulty – UVa appeared to have new life against Virginia Tech with the score tied at 65. The storyline no longer had to read that the Cavaliers blew a 10-point lead at home to their most hated rival. The near-capacity crowd and the momentum were on Virginia’s side.
“I definitely thought we were going to win after that [shot],” Mike Scott said.
But Zeglinski’s 30-foot heave would be just about Virginia’s last highlight of the game.
Just as the Hokies had dominated the last three minutes to erase the Hoos’ 10-point deficit, they continued to own the Cavaliers in overtime, scoring the first bucket and never looking back. The momentary elation at Zeglinski’s improbable triple for Wahoo fans only made their hearts fall that much further, as the Hokies stole a 76-71 win from the Hoos in Charlottesville.
“That’s a hard, hard loss, to be in that spot,” Bennett said. “Some of the decisions down the stretch cost us.”
“I think, just remember looking at the scoreboard, and it was 62-52, and we just went into a slump,” Zeglinski said. “They took advantage of some breakdowns, some turnovers, and some bad shot selections down the stretch. It’s definitely disappointing not to be able to win this one at home, especially with the fans that we had that were loud the whole game.”
After Jeff Jones nailed a tough fade-away shot from 18 feet to give Virginia that 62-52 lead, the Cavaliers appeared to have everything in hand. And, following a turnover from Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney on the next possession, UVa had an opportunity to extend the lead even more. Virginia pushed the ball in transition, finding Jones spotting up for a corner 3-pointer, which has long been Jones’ sweet spot.
Jeff Jones missed a 3-point shot early in the shot clock with Virginia up 10 late in regulation that coach Tony Bennett said he wished Jones would not have taken.
Jones’ missed the 3-point attempt short, however, and so the Hokies’ comeback began. At game’s end, the junior’s decision to launch the shot was called into question – Virginia was leading by 10, after all, and just three seconds had elapsed in the possession.
“I wish we would have pulled that out and just ran some clock, maybe gone at the basket, drawn a foul,” Bennett said. “Sure, if it goes in, we’re all happy, and talking about, what a shot – a lot of guts he had to take it.”
Jones, however, indicated that, if given the chance, he might take that shot again.
“I’ll definitely learn from that, but I have confidence in my shot,” Jones said. “I think every shot is going in. I really have no regrets. I have so much confidence in my ability to shoot the ball.”
While Jones’ decision to shoot the trey was questionable, there were other decisions and plays in the last three minutes that Virginia players would surely like to have back. The span included four points from Delaney off inbounds plays, two Cavalier turnovers, a 3-ball from Lorenzo Hudson with no one guarding him in transition, and two forced jumpers from Scott and Landesberg, neither of which hit the rim.
The Hokies finally took their first lead since the 15:12 mark of the second half with less than a minute remaining in regulation. After Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg called a timeout with 59 seconds remaining, Bennett attempted to play cat-and-mouse, coming out with the only 3-2 zone look that Virginia showed all evening – “I thought we could steal a possession,” Bennett said. The Hokies, however, were able to find JT Thompson in a seam in the lane, and Thompson turned and finished to give VT a 63-62 lead.
After Zeglinski rescued Virginia to send the game to overtime, the poor play for Virginia continued. Delaney started the overtime with an open jumper off a ball screen; on the Hoos’ ensuing possession, Landesberg was stripped as he forced penetration. Delaney then was fouled by the undersized Jontel Evans in the post, and knocked in 1 of 2 free throws; Landesberg was fouled on the other end, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then came a post bucket from J.T. Thompson , and the Hokies found a quick 70-65 lead.
Zeglinski then accounted for Virginia’s only gasp in the overtime, as he nailed yet another deep 3-pointer to shrink the margin to two. But the Hokies took advantage of another blown assignment on a screen and roll, as a lay-up from Thompson returned the lead to four.
Zeglinski tried another 3 from no-man’s land on the Hoos’ next possession, but this time, the desperate shot hit the back rim, and the Hokies ran away to a victory. The Cavaliers had lost, and they had themselves to blame.
But the letdown during the last three minutes and overtime wasn’t the only culprit Thursday night. Though the Hoos ran out to an early 18-8 lead, the margin could have been greater had they not blown several easy opportunities in transition. Virginia would then go on to collapse late in the half with a similarly rapid rhythm that they displayed in crunch time. Coinciding with a foolish second foul of the first half for Landesberg for the second game in a row, the Hoos went on an offensive draught while failing to stop Tech in transition. The Hokies ended the half on an 18-7 run to take a one-point lead into the half.
“When we were back and set, we were hard to score against, and that got away from us at the end of the first half,” Bennett said. “And, ironically, transition defense – whether it was a forced shot or a turnover – it got away from us later in the game, and it really cost us. Whether it’s just leaving a guy open and not going to the right guy, those things are costly.”
And there were still more areas of Virginia’s game to blame. After putting up 14 points in the first half, Scott only managed four shots in the second. The Hoos’ recent trend of errant free throw shooting continued, as Virginia hit 15 of 22 free throws on the night, while the Hokies converted 16 of 20.
As the team buses to Chapel Hill less than 24 hours after the loss for its contest against North Carolina on Sunday evening, however, the Hoos have no time to pout over missed opportunities. And Bennett knows it.
“I made sure I asked each one of them, ‘Are you gonna be all right? Are you gonna be all right?'” Bennett said. “I said, ‘If you’ll bring that heart, and we’ll try to bring a little bit more of that execution, that’s all we can do.’ And you better be ready to go, or you’ll be in trouble in this league if you’re lingering over a past loss.”