Virginia’s Joe Harris scored 16 points in the loss.
Virginia mounted a furious comeback late in the second half, but could not hold on to a brief lead as its road woes in Tallahassee continued. Florida State claimed a 58-55 victory on Saturday afternoon in a battle between two of the ACC’s premier defensive teams. The Cavaliers have not won at FSU since 2001. FSU holds a share of the ACC lead at 7-1, while UVa falls to 5-3 in league play.
Trailing by 13 in the game’s final eight minutes, Virginia (18-4) uncorked a big run to roar back and take the lead. During the 14-0 scoring spurt, Evans keyed the Cavaliers through drives to the basket and on-ball screens by Mike Scott. That led to a Joe Harris layup and 3-pointer, a Malcolm Brogdon triple, and a Scott layup. Evans also pitched in six points during the outburst with a pair of layups in the halfcourt offense and a steal for an uncontested fullcourt layup too. UVa led 45-44 after the rally.
“I saw that my team was down. I just wanted to bring energy to the offensive and defensive end,” Evans told the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “I was trying to make plays on both ends and that’s what I did.”
FSU (16-6) had an answer, though. Junior Michael Snaer, who drained the buzzer-beating 3-pointer that snapped Duke’s 45-game home winning streak, nailed a trey to give the Seminoles the lead again at 47-45. When Virginia closed within 50-48 moments later on a Harris triple, Snaer again provided the counter-punch for FSU. This time, he hit a deep 3-pointer late in the shot clock to push the hosts’ lead back to five. UVa cut it to 53-50 with a driving layup from Brogdon, but Snaer responded once more time with a driving score of his own and Florida State eventually held on for the 58-55 victory.
Snaer finished with just those 8 points for FSU, while Okaro White led his team with 13. Xavier Gibson recorded 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Luke Loucks and Deividas Dulkys had 6 points each. Snaer’s two late triples helped Florida State shoot 41.7% from 3-point range; Virginia had held opponents to 27% shooting on 3’s entering the game.
For the Cavaliers, Scott and Harris led the way with 16 points each. Scott, who put in 8 of the Hoos’ first 10 points, posted a game-high 11 rebounds as well. Brogdon added 10 points and Evans chipped in 8 points and 5 assists.
“I look forward to seeing that on tape because it looked like it was a deep shot and that was a big shot,” Bennett told the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “But you can’t spot a team like that that kind of lead with silly turnovers.”
Before the late track meet broke out – it was 37-29 with 11:27 to go, meaning the two teams combined for 66 points in the first 28:33 minutes and 47 points in the final 11:27 – most observers got what they expected: a defensive battle.
Virginia neutralized a height disadvantage with good rotations, some well-timed double teams, and good rebounding activity across positions (unlike the NC State game where the guards didn’t help the bigs rebound as much as needed). Just as important, UVa’s screen-and-roll defense continued to be strong, something that is a necessity against the Seminoles since they use a variety of on-ball screens periodically within their offense. The Cavaliers hedge out toward the dribbler on those types of plays and then recover and their timing with those defensive actions proved superb against the Noles. Later a four guard lineup held its own with good ball containment defense.
On the other end, FSU impressed as well. The Seminoles pressure the ball heavily, switch screens frequently, and really bother the passing lanes. They needed to have good on-ball and screen defense against Virginia, which uses a mixture of screens on and off the ball within its offensive philosophy. Florida State pestered the Cavaliers all over the court and often disrupted the offense’s timing. When the Hoos did break down the defense, the Noles recovered to contest or block shots frequently too. Virginia beat FSU off the dribble more frequently late with a four guard line-up, but even some of those drives were contested by the help defense.
In the end, both teams posted a decent field goal percentage. The Seminoles made 47.8% of their shots, while the Cavaliers knocked down 46.7% of their attempts. The defense showed up more in the turnovers column where FSU had 19 and Virginia 20; Scott committed 7 turnovers for UVa. Even the unforced turnovers seemed to result from players trying to make plays faster than they’re accustomed to doing.
“I thought at times they sped us up and we just didn’t do the job. They were turning it over too and it was a hard fought game,” Bennett told the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “For us to compete and beat a team like that, that number has got to come down. We’ve got to value that ball a little more while still being aggressive because they force you to put it on the floor with their pressure.”
The Seminoles’ defense bothered Sammy Zeglinski as much as anyone. With long-armed, fast defenders closing out aggressively, the senior guard couldn’t get many clean looks at the rim and struggled mightily to find the target. He shot multiple air balls and the gold and garnet faithful let him hear about that throughout the game. Zeglinski finished 2 of 7 (1 of 5 from 3-point land) with 5 points.
“I think they, because they’re so long, do make you rush your shot. You think you’ve got a rhythm shot and they’re closing on you quick. They tipped a couple of our shots, blocked some shots from three, so I think that sped up our guys and certainly that probably resulted in Sammy shooting them quick and over the basket,” Bennett told the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “You know, he’s got to take them when they’re open as long as they’re not forces. He did some other good things, but my hope is that he’ll come right and as long as they’re good shots, he’s got to take them. … He just has to impact us in every way possible on the defensive end, creating for others, and giving us leadership and then when those games are there where he’s shooting it well then we’ll take that.”