Virginia’s Sammy Zeglinski made 4 of 5 3-pointers.
Tony Bennett’s basketball philosophy is rooted in defense. Prevent easy buckets, challenge all shots, and guard as a group not as individuals.
So when Virginia’s game with NC State on Saturday came down to one final possession, the Cavaliers looked at each other and embraced the defense at the heart of their program. One stop later, the Hoos had a 61-60 victory against the Wolfpack and a 17-3 record to celebrate. Virginia is 4-2 in ACC play.
“Basically we just came together after the timeout and said this is what we do, this is what we practice for, this is what our team is based upon so seven seconds just to get one stop is like what we do all year and that’s what we went out and did,” UVa guard Sammy Zeglinski said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network.
On that final play, NCSU came out of a timeout with just 7.8 seconds remaining and opted for a high ball screen from DeShawn Painter for point guard Lorenzo Brown with long-range sniper Scott Wood planted in the eventual ballside corner. The Cavaliers, however, predictably hedged out (jumped off the screener to briefly double team the dribbler) on Brown’s move off the screen; Akil Mitchell forced Brown to turn away from the lane, while Sammy Zeglinski stayed out of help position on Wood other than a digging motion with his hand. Meanwhile, Jontel Evans caught up to Brown and contested a forced jumper as the Hoos prevented an offensive rebound and held on to win.
That gave Virginia its fifth true road win of the season with a 5-1 record in those games to date. The lone loss came by three points at Duke. Those five victories match the most true road wins in a season since 2000-2001.
“I thought Akil did a terrific job of taking Brown out of the play. We just played our ball‐screen defense, and he was quick with his slide. He didn’t let him turn the corner and let us get into our defense,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We had to string it out wide as the clock was ticking, and then we made him take a tough shot. Fortunately, there wasn’t too much time or they might have gotten a 19th offensive rebound.”
Indeed, getting the win wasn’t easy in light of the way the rebounding battle went.
NC State bullied Virginia in the paint and dominated the glass to the tune of 42-25 for the game. The Wolfpack’s Richard Howell proved to be the difference-maker in that category with 18 rebounds, including 9 on the offensive end, which helped him post 11 points. As a team, NCSU recorded 18 O-Boards and that allowed the hosts to outscore the visitors 17-7 on second-chance points.
C.J. Leslie joined Howell to create a paint predicament throughout the game for the Cavs. He added 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists to Howell’s efforts down low as NCSU posted 30 points in the paint. The ability to challenge UVa down low showed up early. The Wolfpack had 11 offensive rebounds in the first 16 minutes and immediately got the Hoos in foul trouble as well – five fouls on the three-man post rotation in the first four minutes.
UVa’s Mike Scott finished with 18 points and 5 boards.
With that said, one of the game’s most critical stretches came midway through the second half when Howell (foul trouble) and Leslie (cramps) both missed time on the floor. UVa held a slim 47-45 advantage when Leslie joined Howell on the sidelines and the lead had grown to 53-45 when both players returned. That stretch plus a sequence where the Wolfpack’s Alex Johnson missed two lay-ups and a 3-pointer in one possession were crucial considering the eventual outcome.
And, not surprisingly, so was UVa forward Mike Scott. The senior continued his strong play and at least offset some of the post scoring created by Howell and Leslie. Scott finished with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting. He added 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block with 0 turnovers in 36 minutes. Scott, who has scored in double figures 18 times this season, pass Cory Alexander (1,286 points, 1992-95) on the career scoring list in the game and now has 1,297 points.
Zeglinski, another senior, also came up big for the Hoos. After closing out the Boston College game on Thursday night by making back-to-back 3-pointers, Zeglinski picked up where he left off. He made a triple on the first possession of the game and finished 4 of 5 from beyond the arc on the night. Zeglinski moved into a fifth place on the Cavaliers’ career 3-pointer list with 180, passing John Crotty (179, 1988-91). He registered 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal on the night.
UVa’s Joe Harris also had 12 points to go with 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block, while Malcolm Brogdon chipped in 7 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. As a team, Virginia overcame just four second-half field goals with 13 points from the free throw line.
“It was a festive crowd. It was a big crowd and they were certainly loud. I think the experience of being in some settings on the road and having some veteran guys certainly helped,” Bennett said. “Crowds can take you out of the game … [but] I think they were used to that.”
Virginia returns to action on Tuesday night against Clemson. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the John Paul Jones Arena and will be televised on ESPN2.