Teammates congratulate Assane Sene immediately following his game-winner.
The sluggish post-exam break outing Wahoo fans expected to see against Oregon made a late arrival Monday night in the John Paul Jones Arena. Fortunately for Virginia, Assane Sene ‘s tap-in of KT Harrell’s missed free-throw with 4.8 seconds left turned what could have been a devastating loss into a disappointing 50-49 victory over 1-8 Norfolk State on Monday night.
While the Cavaliers (8-3) escaped with the win, however, coach Tony Bennett was not pleased with the lethargic performance.
“We were thoroughly outplayed,” Bennett said. “If it was a loose ball on the floor, an offensive rebound, we lost our way. I did not expect to win that game the way it was looking. It was very improbable the way we tipped one in off a missed free throw. Certainly I’m thankful for the win but we didn’t deserve to get that win the way we played. We were out-toughed and [Norfolk State] played harder.”
Down 49-48 with nine seconds remaining in regulation, Sammy Zeglinski’s 3-pointer off of an improvised play hit the back of the rim; Harrell managed to haul in the loose ball and was fouled on the play by the Spartans’ Aleek Pauline.
“We ran a set play and [Norfolk State] did a pretty good job taking it away,” noted Zeglinski. “Sene did a good job setting up a ball screen, I had a good look, got my eyes to the rim and it just didn’t go down. KT did a good job getting the offensive rebound.”
There was still more drama remaining as Harrell, a 62% free-throw shooter missed both free throws, leaving the Hoos trailing by one with 4.8 seconds to go. As the ball sat on the rim, Sene battled two Spartan defenders for the ball and tapped the errant free throw into the hoop with his left hand.
“The second [free throw] was on the rim for a good three seconds,” Zeglinski said. “But Assane made a big play. Obviously we would like to make the foul shots but they looked good, it’s not like [Harrell] missed by much and Assane was able to make the play.”
Happy endings aside, this was not a quality game for the Hoos, who still managed to secure their fifth consecutive win. The hosts looked sluggish from the outset as senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan noted.
“The energy was kind of down and everybody wasn’t clicking as a unit today and it was just a tough game to play,” Farrakhan said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to attack practice and find ways to get it going and come out of the gate with a little more intensity.”
Mustapha Farrakhan led all scorers with 18 points.
Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans seemed as frustrated with his team’s play as Bennett, calling Sene’s decisive shot a fluke play while noting that “we’ve got to secure the loose [balls] and do the little things. We’ve got to make sure we complete games and do the little things. We fought all game long and now I hope we understand that we have to do the little things – boxing out, the extra effort on long rebounds – things like that so we can finish games.”
Bennett’s Cavaliers were not crisp offensively and shot just 35%. The Hoos managed a season-low 22 first-half points and never led by more than seven points. Virginia’s largest lead came with 8:07 left in the first half when Jontel Evans nailed a trey – his only points of the game to give UVa the 17-10 spread. Over the remaining eight minutes, however, NSU outscored the Cavaliers 10-5 to cut the deficit to two at the break. Norfolk State used a 12-3 run mid-way through the second half to claim its largest advantage at 38-33 with 10:52 remaining. The Hoos reclaimed the lead briefly at 41-40 on a pretty Will Regan post move, but would not hold another lead from the 7:00 mark until Farrakhan’s triple with 1:30 to go.
The critical late 3-pointer helped Farrakhan pace the Hoos with 18 points, including that go-ahead trey that gave Virginia a momentary 48-47 lead. It marks the eighth time in 2010 that Farrakhan has posted a double-digit scoring game. Harrell, the ACC Rookie of the Week, added 9 points and Sene led the team with three offensive rebounds and topped the defense with nine boards and three blocked shots. His 12 combined boards were Sene’s first double figure rebounding game of the year.
As a team the Cavaliers held All-MEAC candidate Kyle O’Quinn in check, limiting the junior center to 6.4 points below his season average. Rob Hampton led the Spartans with 17 points while O’Quinn added 11 rebounds. In the end, Virginia held Norfolk State to a season-low 30.4% shooting night from the floor and a season-low 49 points. NSU is the third consecutive club Virginia has held to less than 50 points, the first time that has happened since the 1948-49 season.
Despite the strong statistical indication of a solid defensive outing, Bennett was as frustrated with his team’s defensive play as he was the offensive effort.
“That sounds good but I thought there was big gaping holes on the defensive end,” lamented Bennett. “When I look at the loose balls on the floor, the breakdowns, we gambled a couple of times and they got into the lane and they missed some shots. Certain teams aren’t going to miss those shots; the offensive put-backs that you just can’t afford. I keep thinking about the quality, the quality and that to me was evident. There were issues on both ends.”
With the absence of Mike Scott, Virginia clearly struggled with its post play as the Hoos were outrebounded 42-36 and outscored in the paint 24-14.
“Our limitations showed,” Bennett said. “Obviously without Mike there’s not a lot of scoring inside and we have to rely on our guards. I told our guys I could live with a loss, win or loss wasn’t a big thing. When we’re shorthanded how we have to play and the things that have to be constant for us just unraveled for us and I thought we took a step back.”
As one might imagine, the post-game interviews were subdued for the Cavaliers as the players were obviously disappointed with their performance.
“It was a little frustrating but we just tried to stay the course and in the end we were able sneak out with a victory,” Zeglinski said. “We were fortunate to get the victory; we didn’t play at the level we wanted obviously but we were definitely fortunate.”
Zeglinski and the Cavaliers will have an opportunity to improve on the effort from Monday night as they continue their eight-game home stand on Wednesday against Seattle. Game time is set for 7 p.m.