Mustapha Farrakhan scored 21 points for the Hoos, including 6 in the game’s final 34 seconds.
During exams at Virginia, students living at Lambeth Field often let out a collective scream around midnight as a way to relieve stress. The noise Charlottesville residents may have heard Wednesday night from that side of town? It wasn’t the Lambeth scream, but a celebratory yelp and a huge sigh of relief as the UVa men’s basketball team survived a late Clemson rally to win 49-47 at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers needed a go-ahead jumper and clutch free throws from Mustapha Farrakhan in the final minute to break a 42-42 tie after the Tigers rallied from 16 points down at intermission.
“Mu, boy he drove him back and it was nice. He hit a big, clutch pull-up,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “Mu’s final six points were crucial.”
Farrakhan’s jumper to push UVa to a 44-42 lead came on what looked like a basic clear-out play. The left-handed Farrakhan started a hard drive to his left, stopped on a dime, and hit the pull-up shot from approximately 16 feet away to give the hosts the lead. After Demontez Stitt missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw situation, Farrakhan made four free throws of his own to help the Hoos hang on for the two-point win.
Farrakhan finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists in 35 minutes of action. Farrakhan has scored in double figures 16 times this season, including four forays in the 20’s. His final six points Wednesday were a huge boost for a team in need of a win, but his go-ahead jumper may have been the most critical shot of the game. The senior captain said he just reacted to the defense on the key jumper in the final minute .
“It was just a read. If nobody was in the lane, I would have attacked all the way but since I had enough space for my pull-up, I just shot the pull-up,” Farrakhan said. “I just gave a little move and he went for it and it freed me up for the shot.”
Farrakhan got plenty of help from some veteran sidekicks. Sammy Zeglinski started things off with a bang when he drained four 3-pointers in the game’s first seven minutes. Zeglinski’s only 12 points helped UVa run out to an early 14-1 lead, an advantage that eventually mushroomed to 16 by halftime.
While Zeglinski (5 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists) did some offensive damage early, it was sophomore Jontel Evans that came up with some critical buckets late to help stem the Tigers’ rally. Evans scored all 6 of his points after intermission, including two much-needed lay-ups in the final 6:11. One of those baskets came in the final 10 seconds of the shot clock, giving UVa a 42-35 lead before Clemson’s late 7-0 run tied the game’s score.
Sammy Zeglinski made four 3-pointers, all in the first seven minutes.
“Coach gave me the start tonight and I just wanted to bring an energy to the game, be a spark plug. So I came out a little aggressive,” Zeglinski said. “I was just proud of our defense, in the first half especially, holding them [Clemson] to 13 points. That was big.”
The defense was indeed big for the Cavaliers. They held Clemson to 33.3% shooting, including just 16.7% from 3-point range (3 of 18). The Tigers’ 13 first-half points are the fewest allowed by Virginia in close to 15 years; UMBC scored just 13 first-half points on Dec. 21, 1996 in a 57-34 UVa win. The overall defense allowed the Hoos to win with just 49 points, the fewest points scored in a victory since a 48-44 win against Northwestern on Dec. 1, 2004.
In fact, other than allowing 18 offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points, the Hoos clamped down on the Tigers pretty much from beginning to end. Only one visitor broke into double figures as Andre Young posted 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Evans helped hold Stitt to just 8 points, while Milton Jennings added 9.
Virginia, which periodically double-teamed balls fed into the post, looked much better in its rotations within the Pack Line scheme. The Hoos handled on-ball screen and hedge situations, something that wrecked the defense against Wake Forest on Saturday, well and didn’t leave many open shots on the perimeter either, something that has plagued the team at times this season. UVa came up with 7 steals and 6 blocks to supplement the effort statistically.
“Besides the offensive rebounds that we gave up and some of the turnovers, that was our best halfcourt defense we’ve played in a while. When our defense was set, I thought it was very good. It made all the difference in the world,” Bennett said. “There was good team defense. The guys were in the gaps, poking the balls away. There was a collective effort tonight defensively that was more sustainable than it’s been. I think it really stung after Wake Forest – the breakdowns we had from the defensive standpoint against them. We needed it tonight because we were turning it over at the end. [Clemson was] in desperation mode – really pressing up. You have to make some plays off the dribble then. We were in a little bit of trouble, but the defense was good enough.”
“It was just important to get a win, any way that we could,” Zeglinski said. “It wasn’t pretty in the second half. Offensively we struggled a little bit, but defense was our staple all night and we were able to pull out the victory.”