Eagles Soar in Charlottesville

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Coach Tony Bennett is feeling the frustration after his team’s poor defensive effort against the Eagles.

It’s hard to pinpoint just one aspect of Saturday’s men’s basketball game that stands out as Virginia’s Achilles’ Heel. Perhaps it was the failure of the team to make a 3-point basket in the second half, or the defensive breakdowns that started before halftime and continued to escalate as Boston College pulled further ahead. Whatever was ailing the Hoos made for one of the most disappointing games of the season, though. The Eagles ran away with a 63-44 victory in Charlottesville, leaving a bewildered Tony Bennett unable to pinpoint exactly what went wrong on the court.

“Today we were in no-man’s land. Whether it was miscommunication on a dribble hand off, if we were switching it or we were not, or even just transition defense, we were below average or poor,” Bennett said. “It really started spilling over into the rest of the game. Sometimes we stayed too long and left a shooter wide open, while sometimes we wouldn’t stay at all. We had a poor performance on both ends, but defensively that was difficult for us.”

Junior guard Reggie Jackson ran roughshod over the Cavaliers almost by himself; he gave the Eagles 25 points, including two huge 3-pointers early in the second half as part of a 15-4 run in which UVa clanked four straight 3’s. The Hoos were on their heels at the end of the first half as the Eagles surged ahead to take a lead going into the locker room and the hosts never seemed to pick things up again.

“It was surprising, but they were running a good style of offense,” senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan said. “We just weren’t communicating today or giving ourselves a chance to win with our defense.”

Boston College head coach Steve Donohue moved his team into a soft press scheme late in the first half and then used it frequently the rest of the way, which contributed to Virginia’s offensive woes. The Eagles benefited from two straight Cavalier turnovers and a Reggie Jackson steal, and scored nine unanswered points to close out the half. In a dominant stretch bridging both halves, Boston College outscored the Hoos 28-6.

Virginia was a cold-shooting team once again, a problem that has plagued Tony Bennett’s young squad all season. The Hoos shot an abysmal 25% from the field in the second half, and were only 32% on the afternoon. The offense (as well as the defense) failed to communicate effectively, and missed several key looks due to playing in a reactionary fashion rather than anticipating the play. The deluge of missed 3-pointers after halftime was a backbreaker for a team that relies on jumpers and the long ball to stay afloat offensively. Go-to guys Sammy Zeglinski, Mustapha Farrakhan , and Joe Harris were all ice cold both inside and outside the arc, each only scoring one basket from the floor in the second half.

“We didn’t communicate as well as we have in the past,” Harris said. “You can blame it on a lot of things, but it was just that not everybody’s head was in it.”

The biggest offensive surprise was junior center Assane Sene , who was the team’s leading scorer along with Farrakhan. Both put up 10 points, and Sene was a perfect 2-2 from the foul line. Sene was responsible for six of Virginia’s first nine points of the game, but failed to create a presence underneath the basket over the long haul.

Joe Harris had a career-high 10 rebounds despite only scoring five points.

That particular role fell to freshman Joe Harris , who once again stepped up underneath and ripped down a career-high 10 rebounds. Zeglinski also had five rebounds in addition to three steals, making himself an asset to the team without his 3-point shooting touch.

“[Harris] had some rebounds early, he does have what I call a ‘nose for the ball,'” Bennett said. “He goes up and grabs it with his size, being 6’6″. If there is one bright spot [of this game] it is that he had 10 rebounds.”

Most disappointing was Virginia’s defensive effort. Jackson, Corey Raji, and Joe Trapani controlled the tempo for the Eagles, and ran away with the game in the second half.

“We certainly struggled offensively and we’ve had games like this before where we weren’t able to hit the shots or have enough guys scoring, but this was one of the first games where I felt like we really got outplayed defensively,” Bennett said. “They did some nice things, they had some tough matchups, but we were fragmented defensively. We didn’t have the defensive performance that even against Duke we stayed in there: that wasn’t the case today. When our cold shooting and our offensive output was down, our defense didn’t carry us.”

Virginia has a fairly quick turnaround as N.C. State arrives on Tuesday for the final home game of the season. The Hoos need to get their act together before the ACC Tournament, and this game is best viewed as a learning experience full of teaching points.

“Our defense just wasn’t there, that’s not the way we play defense. Games like this are good for us because we’re going to come back tomorrow morning and work on things we didn’t do well,” Assane Sene said. “Days like this happen though, sometimes you come and execute well, or play good defense, sometimes you don’t. If that happens you just have to correct it and get ready for the next game.”

Final Stats

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