This season’s Virginia men’s basketball team has played few games outside of the John Paul Jones Arena. So far, other than an impressive victory at Wisconsin, travel has not been kind to the Wahoos. On Wednesday night, the Cavaliers played just their fourth game away from home and they lost for the third time in those trips as Wake Forest grabbed a 55-52 ACC win.
Coming just three days after taking down North Carolina, the Hoos (11-4, 1-1 ACC) could not overcome their recent Winston-Salem jinx as they lost for the 10th straight time at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. UVa is now 13-41 all-time at Wake Forest with a 3-18 mark at the Joel.
“We were very unsound, really defensively and offensively to start the game. The turnovers, the self-inflicted wounds or turnovers, whichever you want to call them, they came left, right, and center,” Cavalier coach Tony Bennett said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “When you can’t take care of the ball and you’re losing, that puts pressure on the defense. … We knew it would be tough on the road, but we just didn’t play very well. I think the effort was OK, but the soundness was lacking.”
Indeed, the problems on both ends of the floor started early for Virginia in this one. The team committed 4 turnovers in the first 4 minutes, something that continued throughout the night and that number climbed to an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers by the end. On the other end, the Pack-Line defense struggled mightily in the first half as Wake Forest (8-6, 1-1) spread the floor and used a combination of backdoor cuts, drive-and-kick looks, and on-ball screens to challenge the help rotations. That led to a 5-of-8 shooting start for the Demon Deacons and they continued to cause issues throughout the first half when they shot 52.0% from the floor.
The turnovers paired with poor shooting left Virginia with a lot of empty trips on offense, while the defensive breakdowns let Wake Forest post too many easy points. That resulted in a 40-26 WFU lead, a deficit that eventually left UVa scrambling in the final moments.
Joe Harris and the team’s other upper classmen combined for 11 turnovers.
“We just didn’t come out with enough energy or focus throughout the game and dug ourselves a hole,” the Cavaliers’ Joe Harris said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “We didn’t execute well enough offensively and that’s where the turnovers came from. We didn’t do a good job of getting the ball side, top, side and making the defense work and we kind of rushed into things a little bit offensively and that’s where the turnovers came from.”
Despite that big hole, the Wahoos didn’t go away quietly. They held the Demon Deacons without a field goal for more than 10 minutes to chip away at the double-digit deficit. Virginia eventually peeled off an 11-2 run that cut the lead to 48-43 in the final two minutes as a layup from Jontel Evans (2 points, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, 4 rebounds) and a put-back from Akil Mitchell (10 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 turnovers) helped fuel a comeback attempt. In the final minute, Evan Nolte (6 points, 3 rebounds) knocked down a 3-pointer, his only basket on 1-of-7 shooting, to make it 50-46 in Wake’s favor, which was followed by a fouling strategy from UVa.
That extended the game and when Joe Harris (13 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 turnovers) somehow canned two late 3-pointers to pull the Cavs to 53-52, there was one last chance to make a play. The Deacs’ C.J. Harris (16 points) got open on the ensuing inbounds play and made two free throws, leaving UVa with one last chance to tie in the final 5.3 seconds. That last-ditch play didn’t work though as the Hoos didn’t get a clean look at the last shot and lost 55-52.
Even that comeback effort was riddled with mistakes, though. Harris travelled as the trailer on potentially key possession early in the rally and missed a wide open lob play on an inbounds play that would have cut to the just three points in the final two minutes. After a good defensive possession near the 1:30 mark, the Cavaliers gave up an offensive rebound that Wake’s Harris turned into two free throws. Mitchell missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity near the 30-second mark. Then the final play ended with a fumbled pass as well.
In other words, the night was filled with poor execution, shaky decisions, and all-around unsound play.
“Road basketball – it’s hard enough getting them at home we know, but on the road, if you take anything but a sound, hard approach, anything less than that, you’re going to be in trouble in this league,” Bennett said. “Heart is kind of an entry level [expectation], but the soundness has got to be there. I’ve repeated that word a lot in this interview, but I think that’s what we have to have.”
Mike Tobey led the Wahoos with 14 points.
There were some bright spots despite the generally frustrating nature of the game. Beyond the ‘no quit’ effort to try to steal the win late, a pair of freshmen showed signs of their significant potential. Center Mike Tobey hit his first 5 shots to keep the Hoos in the game during the first half. He showed post moves with both hands and hit a mid-range jumper as part of his offensive arsenal. Tobey finished 6 of 9 for a team-high 14 points to go with a career-high 7 rebounds.
Justin Anderson also contributed quite a bit in 17 minutes of action. He provided the team with a major boost of energy in the second half on both ends of the floor. Anderson finished with 5 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. That effort included a highlight reel tip-dunk where he crashed the glass from outside the 3-point line to throw down a one-handed jam.
“I think [Mike] really kept us in it, no one else was doing much offensively [early]. He showed his touch, he showed some hooks and some things like that and was pursuing the ball on the glass, which was nice to see,” Bennett said. “From that standpoint, hopefully that gives him some confidence. He’s trying to do the right things defensively. He’s coming along.”