Virginia found a way. In a state where the Cavaliers owned a 5-20 record over the last 25 games, facing a Florida State team that had won the last two meetings, trailing by their largest halftime deficit of the season, and struggling to sustain the offense heading into intermission, the Hoos responded with a strong second half to top the Seminoles 59-55.
The latest round of resiliency helped UVA claim its 15th straight win despite playing five of the last seven games on the road. The Wahoos now stand at 23-1 on the season and 12-0 in the ACC, matching the program’s 1980-81 start to league play. The Cavaliers return home for a Saturday showdown with Virginia Tech next.
“I knew they were coming after us in this one. Just because of the spot we’re in, there’s a heightened sense of focus,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. ”But how they play, how they are playing, how they play at home and even on the road – I knew we were going to have to scrap and fight. I had a feeling it would be a challenge. … For a while, we were kind of lukewarm on how we responded. And in the second half, we responded. … That leadership of Devon [Hall] and how he played, and how guys made plays were the difference. Hard league to be successful in, and when you win on the road, that’s big.”
The road rally required the Hoos’ starting guards to come up big in the second half. While Devon Hall, Ty Jerome, and Kyle Guy combined for 18 points in the first half, Florida State had slowed them down over the final 10 minutes when the trio posted only five points. The Seminoles seemed to chase the Cavaliers off of screens and made it difficult to make catches or to create off the dribble after the catch.
In the second half, however, all three figured out ways to get free. Hall, Jerome, and Guy tallied 27 points after halftime, accounting for all but 10 of the team’s tally in the second half. Timely buckets and clutch free throws from from Isaiah Wilkins, Mamadi Diakite, and De’Andre Hunter rounded out the points needed to win.
Jerome jumpstarted things with a pair of drives for short shots in the paint, while Guy got a jumper to go down off the dribble. Hall followed with a 3-pointer as all three had buckets in the first five minutes of the half. Hall’s triple came off a long offensive rebound after a missed layup attempt from Jerome. In other words, UVA’s guards got into the paint more often to challenge FSU’s tight defense. That helped the team shoot much better in the second half, 44.8% vs. 34.6% before the break.
In the final stats, Hall led all scorers with 17 points as he went three-of-five shooting on 3’s. He added three rebounds and three assists. Jerome posted 15 points on seven-of-14 shooting to go with five rebounds, two assists and two steals. He hit another long 3-pointer late in the shot clock too in the final five minutes. Guy finished with 13 points, including a pair of second-half triples for the Cavaliers.
“In the second half offensively, we got more aggressive off the bounce. We had to,” Bennett said. ”They really overplay, so you have to use the dribble. Our bigs were clocking out, trying to open up the court. You needed to make some big shots and big plays and so we were aggressive there. We realize it’s a battle – the catches got a little easier as we moved a little harder. The pressure was really intense early – it was hard to even get catches, so we opened up the floor.”
With the offense picking up points, the Virginia defense helped reel in the Florida State lead. The hosts had a 29-18 lead after a Christ Koumadje dunk with 5:54 remaining in the first half and they still led 32-22 when the teams went to the locker room. That represented the Hoos’ largest overall deficit of the season and their largest halftime deficit as well.
While the offense didn’t get going until the second half, the defense actually started tightening up late in the first half. FSU knocked down 11 of its first 20 shots to create that lead, but missed the final three attempts of the half to settle in at 47.8% shooting. In the second half, the Noles made just 31.8% of their attempts (seven of 22).
After the dunk pushed the lead to 11, Florida State managed just three more points over the final five minutes with all of them coming from the free throw line. That turned out to be foreshadowing. The Cavaliers chipped away at the deficit in the second half and took a brief lead on a Jerome layup at the halfway point. The Seminoles responded with another dunk by Christ and a layup from MJ Walker to edge back in front 47-44 with 9:01 to go.
That ended up being Florida State’s final field goal of the game, but it stayed in touch with eight free throws down the stretch. Still, FSU missed its final five 3-point attempts and final six shots overall. The Seminoles hit four triples to score their first 12 points of the game, but finished six of 20 (30%) and one of 10 (10%) in the second half. MJ Walker led his team with 10 points.
“I didn’t know it was that long,” Bennett said of the drought. ”Again, they probably missed some and I think we just realized, ‘We’re on the ropes, and we’d better get stops.’ We understand we have to be so good, and it was just one of those games where the game wasn’t out of reach, but you couldn’t exchange buckets with them. It was one of those where we needed to just get a stop. … I thought guys made some hustle plays, and we got some bounces. A couple big shots offensively infused us with energy and then it tightened up a little bit for them.”