Mustapha Farrakhan posted 15 points and 4 rebounds in his last game at JPJ.
The Cavalier men’s basketball team has had its share of ups and downs this year, but it sent the seniors out with a win in the final home contest of the season on Tuesday night. The Hoos grabbed a quick, 16-0 lead to start the game and never fell behind. Virginia handled N.C. State 69-58 in front of an energized, midweek crowd, as seniors Mustapha Farrakhan and Will Sherrill both scored in double figures in their final games at home in the John Paul Jones Arena.
“I kind of prepped myself yesterday,” Farrakhan said. “All my teammates were betting on if I would cry, but I said I wouldn’t and just focused on the task at hand and played as hard as I could for the fans.”
With their families in attendance, Sherrill and Farrakhan put on quite a display for their showcase night. Sherrill opened the game with two straight 3-pointers, and finished the game with four from beyond the arc. In his longest outing since re-injuring his fibula against Miami early in February, the senior forward had 14 points, a season and ACC career high. Sherrill also finished with a team-high eight boards and proved a valuable asset off the ball.
“It was a really great night. I was really happy to have my family here, and the ceremony before the game was great,” Sherrill said. “I was feeling my shot yesterday and today in the shoot-around. I knew the match-ups would give me an opportunity to get some open shots. I was talking with Sam [Zeglinski] before the game. He was watching me in warm-ups, and he said ‘I’m going to hook you up with some passes today.’ I said, ‘What happened to the rest of the season?'”
With Sherrill back in the rotation, Tony Bennett managed to change up his usual four-guard lineup and give the squad a little more presence underneath against the Wolfpack. As a true forward, Sherrill provided excellent screening skills in addition to a hot shooting hand, tying his career high of four 3’s.
Will Sherrill waves to the home crowd.
“It gives us an option where I can go set some screens for those guys and get them open, with some easier looks,” Sherrill said. “If my man has to help, they can kick it back to me for an open shot and I can make the other team pay for that. Sometimes they had my man switching out on to a guard and we got a mismatch that way. When teams play more of a traditional lineup, I feel like that’s when we’re at our best and we can match that.”
Freshman forward Joe Harris was a major beneficiary of Sherrill’s time on Tuesday night, and stole the show a little bit by leading the team with his ACC career-high 19 points. Harris was 4-7 from 3-point land and was perfect from the foul line. Late in the game, Harris drained three straight free throws after being fouled on a trey attempt. He also kept his cool when interrupted during his shots by an official review to determine if he did indeed attempt a 3-pointer when the foul occurred.
“He had a nice game and hit a big three at the end,” coach Tony Bennett said. “He is evolving and it will be a big offseason for both him and the rest of our team.”
The freshman was one of four Cavaliers in double figures, along with Farrakhan, Sherrill and junior Sammy Zeglinski. Virginia’s fifth starter, junior Assane Sene , finished with seven points before fouling out late in the second half.
After jumping out in front early, Virginia was humbled as the Wolfpack roared back to make it 18-17. Luckily, that was as close as it got, and Virginia managed to pull away late in the second half. Senior guard Javier Gonzales had a big night off the bench for NCSU, scoring 16 points despite suffering a minor ankle injury. N.C. State failed to find an offensive rhythm in the second half, and Farrakhan made a clutch triple on a designed play after a timeout to make it a nine-point game with 3:23 remaining.
“We came out great and then struggled some,” Bennett said. “They scored five or six times in a row. We regained our composure and made stops and got some patience. We were able to withstand their run and then had enough to push ahead.”
One area in which Virginia hasn’t struggled lately has been from the charity stripe. Free throw shooting was a problem area for the Hoos at times early in the season, and teams exploited this late in games with excessive fouling. For the second game in a row, the team was better than 80% from the foul line, with Assane Sene and Joe Harris once again stepping up and sinking shots when it counted.
“We have put a lot of time in working on our free throws,” Harris said. “The coaches have made it a priority to get them in before and after practice.”
The Cavaliers are on the road against Maryland on Saturday to close out their regular season schedule. The Terrapins won the first meeting this season 66-42 in Charlottesville.