Mustapha Farrakhan led UVa with 14 points.
When the Emergency Alert System interrupted the postgame radio broadcast in Charlottesville, Cavalier fans were probably thinking it was far too late for a disaster advisory. After all, the warning was needed approximately 30 minutes before that. That’s when the UVa men’s basketball team suffered a shocking collapse and squandered a 10-point lead in the final 45 seconds of its ACC Tournament opener with Miami on Thursday. The Hurricanes stunned the Hoos with a 10-0 run in 29 seconds and won the game 69-62 in overtime.
The loss left the Cavaliers feeling disappointed and perplexed.
“It’s tough to describe. The last minute kind of feels like a whirlwind a little bit,” senior Will Sherrill said. “The fact that I might have played my last game just now is certainly, um, it just feels weird. It’s kind of a shock a little bit. When you pour so much of yourself and your life into doing something for four years as me and Mustapha [Farrakhan] have, the fact that it ends like this, it hurts a lot. I’d be lying to say that it doesn’t hurt lot.”
Exactly what happened in the final minute to cause such a collapse? Miami, predictably, turned up the pressure, trapped fullcourt, and fouled to extend the game. Virginia just needed to take care of the ball, make free throws, and defend the 3-point line to thwart the end-game strategy. Unfortunately, the Hoos couldn’t come up with the ingredients for that recipe.
Miami’s Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant each canned 3-pointers. UVa’s Sammy Zeglinski missed a pair of free throws, part of four misses down the stretch from the junior guard. Still, the game probably remains in Virginia’s hands if it had avoided turnovers. It didn’t. Jontel Evans fired a pass back to the inbounder, but Zeglinski couldn’t handle the low ball and it careened out of bounds; the Canes’ Julian Gamble dunked on the inbounds play to cut the lead to 53-51 with 19.5 seconds to play. After inbounding the ball to Mustapha Farrakhan , the Hoos had to call a timeout to bail him out of a corner trap. On the next inbounds play, Evans forced another ball toward Farrakhan and the Hurricanes stole the pass; Scott scored on the play and was fouled, but missed the free throw that could have ended the game in regulation.
KT Harrell provided some offense with 9 points.
Not that overtime went much differently. Virginia took a brief lead, but couldn’t stop Grant as he scored three points from the free throw line and assisted on two other baskets. Evans missed a free throw with a chance to tie things at 58 and Miami eventually sewed up the seven-point win.
“To end it like that, that is hard. You’ve got to have composure down the stretch. I said you’ve got to make free throws and take care of the ball and when you don’t do that, you put yourself in harm’s way. We didn’t do either of those things,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “We even gave up a little slip for a dunk for in that flurry and that bothered us. To get to that point, I liked what I saw. It felt good and then boom, it changed quick.”
Indeed, the frustrating finish may not have been as tough to take if the Cavaliers had not dominated the second half for the first 19 minutes. After all, the Virginia defense allowed Miami just three field goals for approximately 18 minutes and held the Hurricanes to 4-of-24 shooting in the half before the shocking surge at the end (the Canes made 9 of their next 10 shots).
In the meantime, the Hoos started to find a groove. KT Harrell in particular sparked an offensive outburst with 7 points during a 20-2 run by Virginia, which took a 50-39 lead with the spurt. In addition to Harrell, Evans scored twice, Zeglinski drained a 3-pointer on an inbounds play with just 5 seconds on the shot clock, and Sene made a lay-up to provide the balanced scoring punch. Even when Miami cut the lead to 50-43 with 1:04 to play, things seemed fine for the Hoos as Sene and Farrakhan made 3 of 4 free throws to push the lead back to 10 points.
“It really stings. I really thought our guys bounced back and defended in the second half the way they needed to and offensively they were efficient,” Bennett said. “Then we got down to the end of the game, we missed some free throws, we had some silly turnovers, and with a lead like that, you have to give Miami credit for making the shots, but if you don’t take care of the ball and you miss free throws and you can’t ice the game, you put yourself in spots where you can lose it. It was unfortunate. It stings.”
Despite the disappointing outcome to the game, many observers feel there is reason for optimism at UVa. The Cavaliers overcame the early injury absence of Zeglinski and the loss of captain Mike Scott, the team’s only true interior scoring presence coming into the season, to injury to post a 16-14 record in the regular season. Virginia also lost the services for Sherrill, a senior starter and captain, for a long stretch of games after he broke his leg. The Hoos managed to finish in a seventh-place tie in the league standings at 7-9 after being picked to finish 11th in the preseason despite all of that.
Sherrill said that he sees a bright future with Coach Bennett at the helm.
“I wish I had two more years with Coach Bennett because the way he approaches every day in practice, the way his staff pushes us all to get better, and what he stands for in his program, the program is on the way up definitely,” Sherrill said. “I think as soon as next year with the guys coming back that we have and especially with Mike getting healthy … I think there’s a lot of good expectations that we should have where we should be getting into the NCAA Tournament and challenging for ACC Championships.”