Sylven Landesberg had 13 points in the loss at Clemson.
At the start of February, it appeared that the Virginia men’s basketball team had proved that it belonged in the ACC race. Now, after five losses in a row, it has become evident that coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers still have a long way to go.
The last three games in particular have all had a similarly difficult storyline to swallow for Virginia fans. The once promising defense has gaping holes, the once multifaceted offense struggles to obtain good shots, and even the good looks don’t fall. In this manner, the Cavaliers get outclassed from the opening whistle, and the game is all but over by halftime. In the latest version of this tale at Clemson, the Hoos trailed by 19 at the half, and ultimately fell 72-49 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“It wasn’t too long ago when they were fighting like crazy, and we were holding some teams down,” Bennett told the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “We’ve just sort of lost our way in regard to that.”
The Tigers shot 51.9% for the game, while the Hoos shot just 35% – including 2 of 13 from the 3-point line – as their 49-point output set a new low for the season, beating the old low of 50 points set the previous game against Florida State. One of the few positive statistics for Virginia was its 11 offensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points; on the other hand, this second-chance scoring production further shows Virginia’s inability to make first shots.
The Cavaliers did have three double-digit scorers with decent percentages – Mike Scott finished with 14 points on 7-of-14 shooting, Sylven Landesberg had 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting, and Zeglinski posted 11 on 5-of-12 shooting – but much of that production came with the game no longer in doubt. And again, the flipside of that coin was another awful statistic for Wahoos: the rest of the team shot just 3 of 20.
“Even when we get good looks, those aren’t going,” Bennett said. “A lot of air balls – I don’t know what to say about that. We have some limitations.”
On the defensive end, Clemson’s Jerai Grant in particular got whatever he wanted down low against the Cavaliers. The 6’8″ junior finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting, and also added four blocks. He starred on four consecutive offensive possessions as Clemson went on a 20-6 run midway through the first half; Grant first converted two three-point plays, both after a Virginia defender gambled for a steal on the post entry. On the Tigers’ next possession, Grant rolled to the basket off a dribble handoff, and received a pass for a dunk. He then received the ball in the post again on the next possession, and this time kicked out to David Potter, who nailed an open 3-pointer.
As Clemson continued to expand the lead late in the first half, a baseline jumper from Scott off a feed from Zeglinski shrunk the lead to 16 with less than a minute remaining, which could have given the Hoos a push going into the break. Clemson’s Andre Young, however, knocked down a triple as time expired in the first half, a knife to the heart of Virginia as it went into halftime.
Even when UVa appeared to play better, it just couldn’t get the breaks. One sequence in the second half illustrated this frustration: with the Cavaliers trailing by 22 early in the period, Landesberg fed Sherrill for an open 3, which hit back iron. Virginia tracked the long offensive rebound, and Landesberg freed himself off a screen for another open jumper from 18 feet; again, though, the shot didn’t fall, and Clemson came down with the rebound. On the other end, the Hoos forced the shot clock to run down as the Tigers swung the ball around the perimeter; Andre Young, however, banked in a shot from several feet beyond the 3-point arc as the shot clock expired.
As the lead mounted for Clemson in the second half, Bennett appeared to experiment. Tristan Spurlock also got his earliest action on the floor in ACC play after logging some minutes at the end of the Maryland and Florida State losses; he played seven minutes midway through the second half, but had no points and took just one shot. Bennett also tried a zone against the Tigers, in an attempt to “stop the bleeding,” he said. He also went with a four-guard look in the second half, noting that, “if we’re going to play four guards more, we’ll probably have to come up with a little different scheme defensively at times.”
The zone “is something to throw in there – we don’t work on it that much,” Bennett said. “I’ll look on it on tape, and it has to be something we have in our repertoire. But, we’re not going to win many ball-games with that kind of offensive and defensive execution.”
As Bennett tries out new personnel and new schemes, it is becoming apparent that even he is no longer sure what exactly is ailing the Hoos. When asked if he thought there was better effort against Clemson than in their previous two blowout losses, he responded, “I’m not sure.”
As Virginia heads into the final four-game stretch of the regular season, Bennett’s task will be to bring the Hoos back to respectability.
“We’re really reeling, we’re trying to find ourselves,” Bennett said. “It was a discouraging night once again. Just some lessons that we’ve got to keep learning. We have a ways to go, that’s clear.”