Sylven Landesberg poured in 27 points for the Hoos.
During Virginia’s losing streak, coach Tony Bennett has tried just about everything to get his team back on track. He’s tried tweaking the starting line-up. He’s experimented with a zone. He’s benched his best player for a prolonged period.
Against Miami on Tuesday night, Bennett not only shuffled the starting line-up yet again, but he also shortened his usual 8- or 9-man rotation to 6 to 7. Bennett’s adjustments, however, continue to be futile against the momentum of Virginia’s ACC slide, as the Hoos dropped their sixth straight contest 74-62 to Miami at the BankUnited Center.
“The guys fought hard, hung in there for a while, but it wasn’t enough,” Bennett said. “I thought it was a little better than the last three [games], but the same result.”
Bennett made three changes to his starting line-up: he reinserted Jerome Meyinsse after a one-game hiatus, and gave Calvin Baker and Sammy Zeglinski the nod in the backcourt, to go along with the key cogs of Sylven Landesberg and Mike Scott. From there, six Cavaliers – the five starters, plus Jeff Jones off the bench – combined to eat up 178 of the 200 available minutes. Mustapha Farrakhan – who averages 19.2 minutes per game – saw no action. Normal ACC starter Jontel Evans only got off the bench to help Virginia apply full-court pressure after Miami took a double-digit lead – he played just three minutes. Seldom-used Solomon Tat , meanwhile, played six minutes midway through the second half.
Once again, however, the coaching adjustments had little effect.
“I didn’t play Jontel or Mu much tonight,” Bennett said. “I said, let’s shorten the rotation, let’s go with Calvin with his experience. Everybody has to play really well to be in games, and we haven’t had that game in a while where we all played at a high level.”
Of course, it doesn’t help when Scott has one of his worst games as a Cavalier. The junior scored no points – missing all seven of his shots – and added just three rebounds in 22 minutes. This game marked just the second time in Scott’s career that he was held scoreless; the only other occasion came on Dec. 2, 2008, when Scott went 0 of 4 in a 66-56 loss to Minnesota.
Mike Scott did not score against Miami.
“Mike was really off today,” Bennett said. “He was not playing the way he’s played, and that’s hard for us.”
Scott’s dismal effort was a contrast to the Miami’s frontcourt, which dominated on both ends. The Hurricanes doubled the Hoos’ point production in the paint (36-18), and, in a rare occurrence, took a clear edge on the boards (39-31). The Cavaliers had all kinds of problems with Dwayne Collins – in addition to his 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting, he also added five assists. When Virginia left Collins alone, he often scored or went to the foul line – when the Hoos doubled the post, he found a shooter or frontcourt mate Julian Gamble, who added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and 12 rebounds.
Collins and Gamble also combined to block three shots, and contested numerous others. That kept Virginia primarily as a jump-shooting team – and jump shooting has not been the Cavaliers’ forte of late.
“We tried to set some screens and get some guys some good looks,” Bennett said. “The couple times we did get it down and take it in there, that thing went to the fifth row – that kid [Gamble] is athletic and blocked some shots. You have to take what you can get and what you have a chance at, and that’s limited for now.”
Even with Landesberg scoring 27 points on 8-of-14 shooting, Virginia’s poor shooting trend continued. The Hoos shot 35.1% from the field, while Miami shot 47.5%. The difference in the second half – when Miami finally broke away from the Cavaliers – was particularly jarring, but also indicative of Virginia’s recent struggles: Miami shot 50% in the second half, Virginia just 30.3%. Players other than Landesberg shot 12 of 43 from the field; only Meyinsse and Jones provided some measure of support, as Meyinsse scored 13 points and Jones added 11.
“We need everybody to be locked in and play real well,” Bennett said. “We can’t absorb when some of our key guys aren’t playing well.”
Landesberg tried with all his might to keep Virginia involved in spite of the continued struggles of the rest of his teammates. The sophomore delivered an array of jump shots on his way to 27 points, including a career high six 3-point baskets on eight attempts. His 16 points in the first half were the only reason that Virginia was even in the game at halftime; the rest of the team could only muster 16 more points, but the Cavaliers trailed just 33-32 at the half.
The Canes immediately began to expand their lead with a 5-0 run to start the second half, but Landesberg again answered in the most improbable of fashions. The sophomore then drained a 3-ball out near half-court to quell the run. When Zeglinski gave some rare help to Landesberg by finding a steal and a lay-up on the other end, Virginia had knotted the score at 38.
But, a Landesberg runner to tie the score at 40 at the 13:53 mark of the period represented the Hoos’ last gasp. An Adrian Thomas 3-pointer off a pass from Collins in the post gave Miami its first double-digit lead of 56-45, and Virginia never recovered.
And that phrase – never recover – is doubtless becoming a fear of Cavalier fans for the rest of the season. With a road game against Boston College sandwiched between home contests against Duke and Maryland to end the season, Virginia faces the legitimate possibility of going winless in its final nine games heading into the ACC Tournament.
Bennett, though, will continue to seek answers, and he is asking his team to do the same.
“The challenge will be to the guys. I hope they’ll fight to the bitter end and not check out,” Bennett said. “That’s a challenge that each one of them will have to ask themselves: do they want to finish this thing strong, or just go based on how they feel? That’s a decision that every young man has, and we’ll find out.”