Cavaliers Fend Off Hurricanes

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Jontel Evans came up with several key plays down the stretch in UVa’s win.

Apparently there’s just something about the Miami matchup for the Virginia men’s basketball team that guarantees the ending will be of the nerve-rattling variety. For the third straight meeting, after all, the Hurricanes staged a late-game rally and threatened to steal another win from the Hoos. On Saturday night in Charlottesville, however, Virginia survived a final possession shot on defense to claim a 52-51 victory in its ACC opener.

In the two games between the schools last season, Miami rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation before winning 70-68 in Coral Gables and then topped that feat by erasing a 10-point margin in the final 45 seconds of regulation before prevailing 69-62 in overtime at the ACC Tournament.

“Those were extreme. This wasn’t as extreme as that,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said when asked if this reminded him of those two games at any point Saturday. “That game very well could have gone their way. It was just a hard fought game and it came down to the last possession. In the first half, I thought we had 15 minutes of great, sound defense. As good as it was, it seemed like it vanished – partly to their credit.”

“It was a heck of a basketball game. A lot of credit goes to the consistency of Virginia’s defense and rebounding. I think they controlled the first half and their second-chance opportunities gave them the lead,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “But our guys did a very good job of battling back and not hurrying. We rushed a little bit in the first half. In the second half we got more shots than we were looking for.”

Indeed, the matchup proved to be a nip-and-tuck affair over the final 12 minutes (of the game’s three ties, two came in the final eight minutes) after the Canes quickly erased a 26-17 halftime deficit. With the game tied at 43 at the 7:27 mark, UVa edged ahead over the next three minutes before Miami jumped into the lead with 4:03 remaining when Kenny Kadji dunked in traffic. The Cavaliers had an immediate answer on the next possession when they broke down the defense and then moved the ball around the perimeter where Jontel Evans made an extra pass to assist on a Sammy Zeglinski 3-pointer from the left corner. Moments later Evans added a teardrop runner on the baseline to give Virginia 50-46 lead with 2:59 to play.

The four-point edge remained at 52-48 with 49 seconds to go, but the drama, as is becoming custom against the Hurricanes, was far from over.

Miami’s Durand Scott drove into the paint, drew a foul on Evans, and scored with 33 seconds remaining. He added the free throw to cut the score to 52-51. After a timeout, the Hurricanes pressed but couldn’t get a steal and fouled Joe Harris , who missed the front end of the 1-and-1 free throw opportunity. With the final possession and 13 seconds left in the game, the Canes again turned to Scott, who had 12 points on the night, in what amounted to a clearout call on the left side of the floor in an attempt to win the game. Scott drove toward the baseline, but Evans cut off the angle and forced a tough shot that fell short; Scott had the rebound for the visitors, but Zeglinski tied him up for a jumpball call as time expired … and Hoos everywhere exhaled.

“What I really wanted wasn’t open, so I just tried to go for the best opening, knowing that time was running down. I just didn’t make the shot,” Scott said. “Credit to Virginia for playing great defense.”

“We called timeout and there was 13 seconds to play. We had a situation that has several options to it. One of which is for Durand to drive quickly and hand it to Malcolm [Grant] for a shot and if Malcolm’s covered go right back to Durand. One of the strange things, I don’t know if [Virginia] planned it or not, was that their post defense was normally on the high side, it was throughout the game until the final possession. They played Reggie [Johnson] on the baseline side, which made it difficult on Durand,” Larranaga said. “The opening he expected to have wasn’t there and he had to improvise. I still thought he got the ball to the basket pretty well. Sometimes in that situation the first shot doesn’t go but you tip it in because you’re that close to the basket. We came down with it; maybe one more second and he could have got it back up or throw it to an open man. That’s the difference: one possession, one shot, one play. There were so many of those throughout the game.”

After giving up the traditional three-point play to Scott on the previous possession, Evans said he was focused on forcing a difficult look with the game on the line.

“Before that possession he was getting to the rim easy. He’s a great penetrator and likes to get the rim and I tip my hat off to him, but that last possession I took it upon myself to just stop him,” Evans said. “Don’t reach, hold my ground, and just keep him in front and make him take a tough shot and that’s what he did.”

While Miami’s Scott came through with a solid second half, Virginia’s Scott had a great night offensively for the hosts. Senior forward Mike Scott, after all, led all scorers with 23 points in the game. He made 9 of 20 shots and 5 of 7 free throws while challenging the Hurricanes with a variety of moves all around the floor. From face-up jumpers to dribble entry post shots to back-to-the-basket moves, Scott showcased a full arsenal of options with the ball.

UVa’s Mike Scott poured in 23 points to lead all scorers.

The eventual difference-making basket came with 49 seconds to play when Scott made a face-up dribble from the left side toward the middle and then spun back to the baseline for a layup against defensive contact. That made the score 52-48 and provided the margin needed to hold on for the one-point victory. Scott added 8 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal as well.

“I know my jump shot wasn’t falling and they were laying off of me so I every time I posted up I probably could have took a face-up jump shot every time, but it wasn’t falling and [Kenny Kadji] was in foul trouble,” Scott said. “I tried to get something to the basket. He didn’t foul me. He put his hands up, he was 6’11”, and I just tried to finish over him. It was just a jab step to try to get the defender off and just spin back.”

The fact that Scott can score from a variety of spots on the floor makes him a tough defensive assignment and it opens up scoring opportunities for his teammates as opponents try to defend him.

“Mike Scott is a handful. He’s having a great year. His ability to score both on the block and from the perimeter puts a lot of pressure on opponents’ defenses and it opens up a lot of things for their guard play,” Larranaga said. “You try to limit the number of touches that he gets, but their offense, the mover-blocker offense, sets so many screens for the perimeter players, your perimeter players really can’t help much so he gets isolated and it’s up to the guy who is guarding him to just really do a fantastic job. The problem is if you’re just concentrating on him, he’s screening so often he might get a jump shooter open.”

Of course, even with Scott’s experience and ability, the ACC road will still be challenging moving forward as teams try to clamp down on the Hoos and push the game out of the 50-point range on the scoreboard. Miami, for example, really pestered both Zeglinski and Harris throughout the game Saturday and held the duo to 9 total points (6 for Zeglinski on 2-of-8 shooting and 3 for Harris on 1-5 shooting). In fact, no Cavalier other than Scott made it to double figures so if future opponents can do a similar job and even slightly slow down Scott that may be enough to knock off the Hoos, who have won 12 straight games, their longest streak since 1981-82.

“Every conference game is going to be a battle and you want to try desperately to protect home court. Certainly you want to get them on the road and steal them on the road, but you have to try to hold serve at home,” Bennett said. “I felt like this was an important game. This Miami team is capable. I thought for us not to play our best and still find a way was very important. Now we play a very powerful team on the road in Duke. We’ll take one at a time.”

Final Stats

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