Joe Harris poured in 22 points to set his new ACC high.
Virginia defeated No. 19 NC State on Tuesday night, 58-55, keeping the Wolfpack as the only winless ACC team at the John Paul Jones Arena. UVa has won 12 straight games at the JPJ, matching the program’s longest streak in the building. The Hoos’ Joe Harris led all scorers with 22 points.
The Cavaliers, who have four straight conference victories, have held all seven of their ACC opponents to less than 60 points this season. It is the first time in school history that Virginia has held its first seven ACC opponents below that mark.
“I feel good. They’re a good team – one of the best in the ACC. It’s always good to get a win at home,” UVa’s Akil Mitchell said. “They’ve got some good players, and to beat a ranked team is a big deal. We are all happy with that.”
The Cavaliers (15-5, 5-2 ACC) knew they would have a tough battle with the Wolfpack (16-5, 5-3). There was no doubt this game would be physical. But UVa matched State’s toughness and at times became the aggressor. This was evident in the first half when after a missed 3-point attempt by Paul Jesperson , freshmen Mike Tobey tore an offensive rebound out of the hands of NC State’s Richard Howell and promptly scored a layup. That effort fired up the team and fans.
Virginia needed that sort of intensity because the Wolfpack jumped out to an early lead and led by as many as 11 with 1:42 remaining in the first half. But Virginia rallied. First it was Joe Harris nailing a 3-pointer off an assist from Jontel Evans . And with 1:03 remaining in the half, Mitchell drove the baseline and was fouled while throwing down a monstrous one-handed dunk. Mitchell hit the free throw and the Hoos cut State’s lead to just seven, 31-24, headed to the locker room. UVa had a number of good defensive possessions to close out the half too.
That flourish set the stage for the second half when the Wahoos surged to the victory.
Virginia came out of the locker room with intensity and immediately put strong defensive pressure on NCSU. Steals by both Evan Nolte and Jesperson led to back-to-back baskets for Mitchell, closing the gap to just three points. The effort got much of arena’s fans off their seats and making noise. That prompted UVa to turn it up another notch and the hosts would never trail by more than four the rest of the game.
On the offensive end in the second half, Virginia made an effort to get the ball inside to Tobey and Mitchell. The plan worked as both players took advantage of mismatches in the paint and combined for 17 of Virginia’s 34 second-half points. In the end, Mitchell recorded his seventh double-double of the season (14 points with his new ACC career-high of 12 rebounds).
Tobey, meanwhile, scored in a variety of ways: a face up shot, a layup, a hook, and a thunderous dunk while being fouled with 17:19 to play. Tobey hit the free throw and the Hoos narrowed the lead to just two points on that old-fashioned three-point play. The freshman finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 7 rebounds, which matched his career high. He added 2 blocked shots, 1 steal, and 1 assist as well.
“He’s got terrific touch,” said Bennett. “I think his length bothered Howell some. Mike’s continuing to improve, and again, he is certainly a threat on the blocks, and I love it that he had seven rebounds. I see three offensive rebounds and four defensive rebounds. That’s a good step. He’s put together three real nice games.”
Tobey’s outstanding play got his teammates off the bench often, and on more than one occasion had fans chanting, “Tobey, Tobey, Tobey …”
“That sounded great,” said Tobey about the chanting. “We have the best fans.”
In the second half, Virginia fought hard, played tough defense, and put together a number of solid offensive sets. The Cavaliers tied the game a number of times, but could not regain the lead until Harris was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 5:08 left. Harris hit on all three free throw attempts and Virginia got the lead at 50-49. The Hoos did not fall behind the rest of the game.
With a one-point lead, possession of the ball, and just 26 seconds remaining, State’s Rodney Purvis committed an ill-advised foul, which put Evans at the line for a 1-and-1 opportunity. After missing three free throws to end the first half, the pressure was on Evans to block it out and focus on hitting both shots. The first shot went cleanly through the net, putting the Hoos up two. The second shot hit the rim, but eventually fell through. The crowd and bench erupted, and Evans had more than made amends for his earlier misses.
UVa’s Mike Tobey finished with 13 points and 7 boards.
“After I had missed the last three of the first half,” Evans said, “my teammates told me, ‘Man, don’t even worry about it. Sometimes shots just don’t drop.’ At the beginning of the second half, Coach Bennett just told me to take my time out there, and to relax. When I got the last two, I just thought about the two in front of me. My concentration was unbelievable. I was focused. I went through my progressions; I tuned out the crowd, the score, and everything. Those were probably the biggest two free throws of my entire career.”
Virginia’s staunch defense did the rest. UVa held NC State to 37.7% shooting for the night, including 34.8% in the second half. That left the visitors well short of their season average of 79.8 points per game. The Wolfpack entered the game scoring 23 points per game in transition, the nation’s best mark, but the Hoos held that total to 5 points on Tuesday night.
The defense was led by a number of players, including freshman Justin Anderson , who blocked a shot and recorded a steal. Tobey provided a strong defensive presence inside, blocking a couple of shots and changing a few others. And even though Jesperson didn’t light up the stat line (he had no points and one each of rebounds, steals, blocks, assists, fouls, and turnovers), his value to the team came on the defensive end, particularly on the last play of the game. NC State trailed by three and had an opportunity to tie the game, but came up short when Jesperson partially blocked Scott Wood’s 3-point attempt with three seconds remaining.
“Paul got a piece of it,” said Coach Bennett. “Paul did a good job. He fell asleep one time on [Scott] Wood, and that’s when Wood hit the three. But otherwise, you look at Paul’s stat line, and it wasn’t much, but defensively, I thought he was very good. He tipped that last one.”
The win was monumental for this young squad. It proved to them they can compete at a high level and win against ranked competition. The win puts the Cavaliers in second place in the ACC as they prepare for a road trip to Georgia Tech on Sunday at 3 p.m.
“This is definitely a great win for us,” Tobey said. “We had a couple of tough losses early in the year. But if we keep getting these big wins, hopefully we can make it to the [NCAA] Tournament this year.”