Tony Bennett’s team struggled throughout the loss to Seattle.
Virginia had flirted with disaster twice in recent home games before escaping with wins against Radford and Norfolk State. Well you’ve heard the old saying about playing with fire. The Hoos got burnt on Wednesday night by another sluggish performance as Seattle swiped a 59-53 victory in the John Paul Jones Arena, simultaneously the first home loss and first road win of the season for the two teams.
The Cavaliers (8-4), who needed a last-gasp tip-in from Assane Sene to defeat NSU on Monday, fell behind 9-2 early and struggled throughout the night against the Red Hawks (5-10), who fell 105-76 at Maryland among its seven previous road losses this season.
“Most definitely [disappointing],” UVa forward Mike Scott said. “Seattle, they were just scrappier, more hungry; it seemed like they just wanted it more than we did.”
All in all, it proved to be a coal in the stocking type of night for the Hoos. They had just 6 assists and 9 turnovers while shooting a miserable 16 of 53 from the field. They gave up 11 points off turnovers and 9 points on second-chance opportunities. They got outrebounded 36-32 and lost more than enough toss-up loose balls.
Bah humbug indeed.
“I challenged them before the game. I said, ‘every possession of the defense I want to see you out-work them, out-hustle them.’ I told them it wasn’t that they weren’t hustling or trying, but I thought our awareness for the loose balls was really poor, whether it was just scooping it up with two hands and possessing it, or scrambling and it dropping behind you,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “We weren’t alert and aware where the balls were They had a nose for the ball. They were on it, and our reflexes looked slow. They won the 50-50 balls all the way.”
Of course nothing bothers Bennett more than defensive breakdowns and there were plenty to around by the Cavaliers, who did not protect the paint as expected with the Pack-Line defense. Virginia allowed 50% shooting to the visitors as they converted 24 of 48 attempts. UVa guard Sammy Zeglinski said poor defense from the outset helped the Redhawks find a comfort zone on offense and then the game became a night-long uphill battle for the hosts. The Cavs couldn’t string together stops and scores frequently enough to make a serious charge at a comeback.
“I think we lost the game defensively early when we let them get comfortable and they weren’t scared at all. They were real comfortable and shooting from deep and they were real confident,” Zeglinski said. “It felt like we couldn’t make the big stop when we needed it. I feel like we were down [around] seven almost the whole game. Obviously we didn’t make shots either, but defensively I thought we did a poor job of letting them get too comfortable.”
In the end, Seattle posted 30 points in the paint, outscoring the Hoos by 16 in that category. Redhawk forward Aaron Broussard did most of the damage with 15 points and 10 rebounds on the night in 39 minutes of action. Teammate Sterling Carter provided the outside balance by making 4 of 8 3-pointers to finish with 19 points; he also created paint protection problems with drives toward the rim.
“They certainly exploited us. They had 18 points in the paint in the first half, and 30 for the game. Defensively, the best player on the floor was Broussard. He was a hard match-up for us. When we did trap, it was a poor trap,” Bennett said. “Even some of the other kids who hadn’t scored really took advantage of us. We didn’t play good post defense, and we didn’t keep the ball out of the lane. Certainly they made some tough shots, but our defense did not take away much at all. They shot 50 percent and they got to the lane a lot. Mike [Scott] wasn’t himself defensively. But we were laboring on the scoring and he was drawing a lot of attention. We got in the situation where we went with four guards because we needed some scoring, and that softens our defense on the front line.”
The Cavaliers certainly needed some scoring in a contest where nothing went smoothly on the offensive end. Virginia appeared to be laboring to create shots much of the night and even when good looks materialized, the Hoos simply couldn’t knock down many shots. They shot 30.2% from the field and an agonizing 10% from 3-point range (2 of 20), many of which were quality looks for capable shooters.
KT Harrell led UVa in scoring with 16 points.
Mustapha Farrakhan hit his first shot to give UVa 2-0 lead, but did not hit another from the field for the rest of the night; he finished with 6 points on 1-of-12 shooting (0-7 on 3’s) and contributed just 1 rebound otherwise on the stat sheet. He had plenty of company in the cold shooting category. Zeglinski made just 3 of 11 shots (1-7 on 3’s) to score 9 points, while Joe Harris made 2 of 5 (0-2 on 3’s) for 6 points. Only KT Harrell had a successful shooting stroke going on the perimeter. Harrell poured in a team-best 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting (1 of 2 on 3’s).
Scott, back remarkably quickly from ankle surgery just last Thursday, added 12 points and 8 rebounds for the Hoos; he made 3 of 7 shots. Scott said his ankle did not bother him during the game and he logged 31 minutes of floor time, second to only Harrell’s 34.
“It felt good. It was more my legs honestly,” Scott said. “The ankle felt great. It was just trying to get back in a game-like tempo with my legs that’s all.”
The Cavaliers hope to recover from the pre-holiday doldrums as quickly as Scott did from his ankle surgery. After picking up two unexpected road wins at Minnesota and Virginia Tech, the Hoos returned home and struggled despite winning 3 of 4 games at the JPJ. The Radford, Norfolk State, and Seattle contests on both sides of the exam break all featured inconsistent and indolent themes.
Bennett knows if his team can’t shake off the slump, then there may be many more long nights ahead.
“I see some of our limitations. I know we’re playing it pretty close to the vest. We have to be really good in the little areas, like we had to against Norfolk State. We’ve been fortunate, and we took one on the chin. You better look in the mirror and say, ‘Okay. Let’s get back to trying to do the little things we always say. Eliminate losing,'” Bennett said. “They didn’t get points in transition. They got points in the paint. Our strength in our defense has always been that they don’t get it. We call it our “pack” because we protect the lane. That wasn’t happening tonight. So, we have work to do on that. We’re 8-4, and had some nice wins. We escaped some games that could have gone the other way. We try to improve over the break, play the competition, keep stepping up. We have to, otherwise we’ll be sitting here a lot and it’ll be tough.”