Akil Mitchell led the Hoos with 15 points and 12 boards.
Virginia’s final road game of the season ended much like the first. Back on Nov. 9, UVa lost a close one at George Mason with too many defensive breakdowns, a big shot late from an opposing player, and disjointed offense headlining the outcome. Fast forward to Thursday night at Florida State and the themes proved similar as the Cavaliers lost a heartbreaker, 53-51.
As a result, the UVa men’s basketball team finished the road portion of the regular season with a 3-9 record outside of Charlottesville. This one wasn’t any easier to take than the previous eight setbacks for the Hoos, who head into the regular season finale against Maryland hovering around the NCAA Tournament bubble with a 20-10 record.
“We would love a chance to play in [the NCAA Tournament],” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the game. “I don’t know. That’s such a moving target. We talked about it. I don’t know where we’re positioned, but the last couple games when you’ve had chances to win them and you haven’t been able to get them, it just stings because every win you get is going to help ya make your case a little stronger. But coming in here going against a team that is hard to be at home, we knew we’d have to play well and almost did. But not quite.”
The Seminoles (16-14, 8-9 ACC) needed a late shot from Michael Snaer – again – to put away the Cavaliers. Trailing 51-50, the Noles exited a timeout with 12.8 seconds to go and sent Snaer around a staggered set of baseline screens to get him the ball on the right wing. Snaer drove hard to his left, hung in the air while getting fouled, and made a tough left-handed shot to give his team the lead. He added the ensuing free throw to make it 53-51 with 4.4 seconds to go. Snaer, who told reporters that he knew he would make a play in that situation, has made six game-winning shots over the past two seasons.
“We wanted to run him along the baseline to free him up and give him the opportunity to either create for himself or to create for someone else,” State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He did get the ball and he was able to explode to the basket and he was fortunate enough to make the basket and the free throw.”
Snaer finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Okaro White led the Noles with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Kiel Turpin added 11 points.
For the game, FSU made 47.7% of its field goal attempts.
“I thought we got broken down [at times to start the second half]. I thought they hit us on some screens and we got stuck. We had a couple of poor rotations on the ball screen. We were trying to keep the ball on one side and it got dragged across,” Bennett said.
Despite the shaky defense for large chunks of the second half when the hosts shot 52.6%, Virginia buckled down for more than five minutes to give itself a chance at victory. After FSU’s Boris Bojanovsky dunked an offensive rebound to give his team a 47-36 lead with 6:32 remaining, UVa allowed just one other field goal – White scored on a lay-up to make it 50-45 at the 3:24 mark – until Snaer’s bucket in the final seconds.
During that span, the Cavaliers cut into the 11-point deficit with a 9-2 run. Justin Anderson dunked in transition, Jontel Evans scored on a lay-up, and Paul Jesperson hit a 3-pointer when Akil Mitchell kicked out an offensive rebound. At 2:07, Mitchell grabbed another offensive board and scored to make it 50-49 in favor of the Seminoles.
After forcing a shot clock violation on defense, UVa took its first lead since 15-14 in the first half when Joe Harris drove hard to the basket after curling off a Mitchell screen. He made both free throws for the 51-50 edge. Virginia got another defensive stop on the next possession, but chose to run a one-look play after killing most of the shot clock with less than one minute to go. That trip was designed to get Harris a look at the rim, but ended with Mitchell having to drive hard to his left hand where he missed a tough lay-up.
Snaer’s heroics followed and a final effort by the Hoos did not produce shot. The visitors inbounded to Mitchell, who quickly hit Harris on the move but the junior lost the ball between defenders trying to cross halfcourt.
“We got the ball to Joe and he just fumbled it,” Bennett said of the last-ditch effort. “We wanted him to have a chance to come down the floor. He had four seconds and four dribbles, they over played it and we got it to Akil and then Joe cut, and if he would have handled it, then we probably would have had a chance to get a pull-up shot or possibly, I don’t know if he would have got to the rim, but it would have been close.”
Harris finished with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Mitchell, meanwhile, led the Hoos with 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds; he added 3 assists and 1 blocked shot. Mike Tobey came off the bench to record 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Anderson, Evans, and Jesperson combined for 11 points on 5-of-18 shooting.
The Cavaliers hope the offense comes back to life when they return to the John Paul Jones Arena for their final game of the regular season on Sunday. They host Maryland at 6 p.m. in a game considered to have potential NCAA Tournament implications. The Wahoos, who have won 16 straight games at the JPJ, have averaged 76.5 points per game at home since Feb. 1. That average falls to 62.3 points per game on the road during the same time span, including a 51.0 average over the last three road trips.
“We’ve just got to go at Maryland and play as hard as we can. We’ve got to get that win,” Tobey said on the Virginia Sports Radio Network. “These two games are behind us now and there’s nothing we can do about that but we’ve got to go into Maryland and play our game to get a win.”