Mike Scott posted yet another 20-10 game, but the Hoos fell short.
Virginia’s grind-it-out, possession-by-possession style could pay dividends in future postseason play but when it comes to the ACC Tournament and games with NC State, nothing seems to work for the Cavaliers. In Thursday’s tourney quarterfinals in Atlanta, the Wolfpack once again sent the Hoos packing with a 67-64 defeat. UVa fell to 2-13 all-time against NCSU in the ACC Tournament.
Virginia has lost 12 straight ACC quarterfinal games.
“The way we started hurt us. They certainly took it to us the way the game started. Then we reeled it back in and got the game where it needed to be, how we had to play defensively, and even offensively,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said. “Some of the baskets at the rim, transition buckets, turnovers early – we were out of synch.”
Tournament game or not, the biggest issue for Virginia on Friday proved to be defense. Throughout the season, UVa has been one of the stingiest defensive teams in the nation. The Hoos allowed 53.2 points per game on 39.1% shooting from opponents, while allowing just 8 assists each outing.
None of those numbers carried through into the game with NCSU. The Wolfpack made 54% of their shots, including a strong 59.3% showing in the first half. They also dished out 18 assists, the most of any Virginia opponent this season. The Pack hurt UVa with some screen-and-pop switching problems and some drive-and-drop plays.
CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown did most of the damage for State. Leslie poured in 19 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists. Brown, meanwhile, posted 15 points and 8 assists. Richard Howell added 10 points, while Scott Wood scored 8. Wood’s contributions came at big times though – he nailed a 3-pointer while being fouled to end the first half on a rare four-point play and added a 3-pointer at 5:59 in the second half to give NCSU its biggest lead of the game.
“The way they got some layups in transition, a couple of buckets at the rim – we just were a half a step behind,” Bennett said. “I thought we made some adjustments and were better in the second half, though they still shot close to 50 [percent], but I always talk about trying to make the opponent earn and those easy ones cost us early and we had to fight to get it back to even. When we did, they made some plays down the stretch.”
Despite the defensive problems, Virginia’s effort allowed it to stay in the contest throughout. After falling behind during the middle portion of the first half, the Cavaliers clawed back to take a late lead before Wood’s four-point play gave the Pack the 36-33 lead at intermission. Early in the second half, the contest was tied at 36-36 and even though NCSU edged ahead, it remained close at 39-38, 42-41, 46-43, 50-47, 60-58, and 62-60. The Hoos, however, could never get over the hump.
While Bennett said he didn’t think fatigue played a role in that, the Cavaliers essentially used just five players in the game as the bench combined for just 13 minutes of playing time. First-team All-ACC selection Mike Scott made the most of his 37 minutes as he recorded a game-high 23 points, though he did shoot just 9 of 23 from the field. Scott added 10 rebounds to his line to finish with the 10th “20 -10” game of his career and the 6th of this season. He moved into third place on the program’s career rebounding list with 938 rebounds, moving past Junior Burrough (929, 1992-95).
The Cavaliers’ Joe Harris scored 18 points.
Joe Harris , who had been Scott’s sidekick scorer for most of the season before breaking a bone in his left hand, rediscovered his scoring touch too. He finished with 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal in 34 minutes. Akil Mitchell added 10 points and 12 rebounds, his first career double-double, in 38 minutes. With two steals, Sammy Zeglinski entered a 10th place tie on the program’s career steals list with 154 steals, tying Bobby Stokes (154, 1976-79).
Harris had a shot to tie the game in the final 30 seconds when UVa trailed 65-62. After Evans drove toward the rim looking for a quick opportunity, the defense collapsed and that led to Harris taking a handoff from Mitchell on the left wing. Harris got a decent look at the rim, though he was about three feet behind the 3-point line. The shot came up short.
“I think we were trying to get something initially out of it. … It was a deep three, but it was a clean chance. I think he got a good look at it and that would have tied it,” Bennett said. “I think we were trying to get something quick with Jontel at the rim with Mike, but it ended up with Joe getting a good look. … It was long, but it was a rhythm shot.”
And with that, Virginia’s ACC Tournament stay was once again a short one. Now, the Cavaliers have to hope the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee sees them as worthy of an at-large spot in the field. The brackets for March Madness are released on Sunday evening.
“I’ve never been to the tournament so I’m just hoping they put us in there,” Scott said.