Cavs Suffer Second OT Loss

Jerome Meyinsse and the Cavaliers had a much-improved defensive effort against Wake Forest, but fell just short.

In the torrential snowstorm that has hit Charlottesville along with the rest of the East Coast, many thought that Saturday’s contest between Virginia and Wake Forest would not be played. Fewer thought that the arena would be raucous.

But, the crowd of 5,988 – which included a student section nearly filled to capacity – proved that they were desperate for a win against Wake Forest; the arena had scarcely been louder with twice the turnout. And had Virginia emerged with a victory, the vocal fans doubtless would have been one of the reasons.

Though the fans certainly got their money’s worth in a low-scoring yet thrilling affair, Virginia and its loyal core of fans came up empty. After leading for the majority of regulation, the Cavaliers lost their second consecutive overtime contest at home, falling 64-61 to the Demon Deacons in a game that featured stellar execution of the Pack-Line defense from both sides.

“I want to say thanks to the fans that came in the weather,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That was unbelievable, that meant more to me and to our team than you will ever know. I am beginning to understand more and more what Virginia fans are about – that they would come out and support us in that weather and cheer like they did, it was a homecourt advantage because of them. So I say thank you to them, and sorry that we did not do our part. We battled hard, there is no question.”

Despite a surprisingly strong start for the Hoos this season, they now fall to 0-2 in overtime contests and 1-5 in games decided by five points or less.

“I thought Virginia’s kids played really hard, I thought our kids played really hard,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “Coin toss, anyone could have won that basketball game. We are fortunate to win.”

Similar to their previous overtime loss to Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers never led the extra period; this time, however, they did keep the game close to the final seconds, as they trailed by just three points with possession coming out of a timeout and 20.9 seconds remaining. On that possession, however, Sylven Landesberg settled for a pull-up 3-pointer, which he missed short. Will Sherrill pulled down the offensive rebound in the lane with 10 seconds remaining, but apparently was not aware of the time remaining. Sherrill dribbled out to the near corner and hoisted a prayer from beyond the 3-point line with eight seconds on the clock, which missed the basket long.

The Hoos had just fouled Wake’s Ishmael Smith on the previous possession, and Smith – a 48.4 percent free throw shooter coming into the contest – made just 1 of 2. Had Sherill finished an easy put-back in the lane to shrink the margin to one, Virginia could have again looked to put Smith on the line. Instead, after Sherrill’s miss, Wake Forest rebounded and fired the ball past halfcourt, and dribbled out the remaining time.

While Bennett said that the Hoos were initially looking for a 3-pointer on the possession, the execution did not go as planned from start to finish.

“We drew up a play, but our timing was off on it,” Bennett said. “We were looking for a three, and then if it wasn’t there, attack and get a score. Will made a great hustle play [on the rebound], and lost track of the time, and we didn’t have any timeouts left.”

Sylven Landesberg was one of the few bright spots for Virginia offensively, scoring 28 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field and 10-11 from the foul line.

In its entirety, the game often appeared to be a tit-for-tat battle between its two stars, Landesberg and Smith; and on paper, it would appear that Landesberg had an edge. Landesberg finished with 28 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field and 10-11 from the foul line plus three assists, seven rebounds, and just one turnover; Smith scored 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field and 3 -5 from the line and added five assists, seven rebounds and two turnovers.

But Landesberg’s line does him justice, while Smith’s does not. Wake’s senior point guard was marvelous, catalyzing the vast majority of his team’s 64 points. As the Demon Deacons ran high screen-and-roll action for Smith on virtually every possession after halftime, he nearly always found a shot for himself or a teammate.

And even if Smith missed, he inevitably drew a Virginia big man off the glass, giving the likes of Al Farouq-Aminu and Tony Woods easy put-back opportunities; in the last eight minutes of regulation and the first three of overtime, Wake Forest pulled down six offensive rebounds and scored nine second-chance points. For the game, Wake scored 18 second-chance points to Virginia’s five.

“We know we’re going to miss, and the big guys have got to think those are passes to them,” Gaudio said.

As Smith weaved his way into the lane at will late in the game, Bennett said that he considered fouling him or going to a zone, but ultimately stuck with his customary Pack-Line man look without fouling.

“It definitely was either perhaps going to a zone or fouling him, we were talking about that,” Bennett said. “Because he’s so clever and so quick. That flat ball-screen was giving us some trouble.”

Mike Scott went 5-5 from the floor in the first half, but missed all 10 of his field goal attempts after halftime.

And while the Hoos struggled to keep Smith out of the lane and the Wake frontcourt off the glass, the Cavaliers also struggled offensively throughout the second half and overtime. The Hoos converted just 9 of 38 field goals after halftime, including 4 of 26 from players other than Landesberg. Mike Scott in particular struggled in the second half, missing all of his 10 field goal attempts after going 5-5 in the first.

“They’re really loading or stacking the deck on Sylven,” Bennett said, “and when he’s making that next pass, we’re getting some looks – we even got some inside touches – but it wasn’t enough.”

With regard to Scott, Bennett added, “He hit some outside shots in the first half, and he got a few of those [looks in the second half]. They played good defense, and they made him work. But, we went to him, and as long as they’re good shots I want him to take them. I’ll have to go back to the tape to see if there are an ill-advised ones, but for the most part, he got position, and he got some offensive rebounds, but the outcome wasn’t the same from the first half.”

As the Hoos struggled to score in the second half, the turning point of the contest may have occurred well before the overtime. After the Hoos led 41-39 with 12:59 remaining, they simply could not buy a bucket – the only two points they scored over the next 7:19 were two free throws after a technical foul on Wake Forest’s Chas McFarland.

For the first four-and-a-half minutes of that stretch, the Cavaliers’ defense kept them in the game, as it surrendered just four points. For the next 1:25, however, the Hoos faltered; they committed a turnover, gave up a put-back bucket, and guard Sammy Zeglinski missed a triple early in the shot clock, resulting in one of Wake’s few fastbreak buckets of the game.

The lapses were quick, but it resulted in the only quick spurt of the game after halftime; and it gave Wake Forest a lead that it would never relinquish.

“We made some decisions that hurt us,” Bennett said. “Whether it was a quick shot or just a silly, silly thing defensively – a block out or a miscommunication – and against high-level teams, you can’t afford those lapses.”

The Hoos, however, can credit their defense for a vastly improved effort from their game at Wake Forest, in which the Demon Deacons shot 52.3 percent from the field in a 12-point victory. Although the Wake frontcourt did damage on the glass in Saturday’s affair, that was largely based on havoc wreaked by Smith. Indeed, the majority of the interior effort from Wake was on the glass, as 14 of the 24 points from Aminu, Woods, and L.D. Williams came on an offensive board.

“I said [before the game], ‘Don’t you let them do what they did at their place,'” Bennett said. “And I thought for the most part, they didn’t.”

In addition, despite the brilliant effort from Smith, it was hard earned. Jontel Evans spent all of his 25 minutes chasing Smith, and managed to hold him to a misfired jumper in several key situations.

“That Jontel Evans is as good a defender as we’ve had on Ishmael Smith in a long time,” Gaudio said. “That kid can really, really guard – he’s a really good defender.”

“It means a lot to me for coaches at this level to think I have good defense, because defense gets you far – it got me to the ACC, collegiate level,” Evans said. “I’m happy [Gaudio] said that, it brings a smile to my face.”

Indeed, many positives can be taken from this game. After UVa Athletics Director Craig Littlepage made a speech to the fans in attendance thanking them for their loyalty – during which he said, “We are going to win the regular season in the ACC,” – the fired-up home crowd was treated to a top-notch defensive display of basketball from both teams.

But two home losses in overtime loom large for Virginia as four of its next five games are on the road.

“As hard as it is to win at home, it’s even harder to win on the road when the crowd is against you,” Meyinsse said. “We have a big challenge ahead of us.”

Final Stats