Virginia basketball coach Tony Bennett likes to say defense travels. The gist of that phrase meaning that teams should always be able to rely on their defense when playing outside their own building. It’s no wonder he looked a little bewildered after Monday night’s game at Florida State then.
Facing another top 20 team outside of Charlottesville, UVA once again watched its defense unravel as the Seminoles smashed the Hoos 81-60 in Tallahassee. The Seminoles led 45-25 at the half and shrugged off an early second-half push from the Cavaliers to win comfortably. Virginia is 1-3 against ranked opponents this season.
“We talked about it, they are physical, aggressive teams and somehow when you play those teams, and they’re good, they’re not just physical but how do you, it’s why they are ranked and all that, how do you hang in there and battle and be tough minded?” Bennett said. “I think it goes to the things you have control over. We’ve said that before, we’re not the most physically imposing team but we have to do physically imposing things that matter. In those games that you mentioned, Gonzaga and Florida State, boom that separation was there right away and it was almost like cold water. The Virginia Tech game, I thought they, as the game wore on, they sort of imposed their way on us, which we’ve done [to] teams in the past. It’s just trying to grow from it and learn from it.”
Indeed, the Hoos got similar outcomes against Gonzaga in a neutral site game in Texas and at Virginia Tech last month. The No. 1 Bulldogs ripped through the defense with 60.3% shooting overall and 50% shooting from 3-point range to win 98-75 in Fort Worth. The then No. 20 Hokies pulled away to a 65-51 victory in Blacksburg behind 50% shooting overall and 50% shooting from 3-point range.
The Seminoles’ box score looked very similar. They posted 50% shooting overall and 54.2% shooting from 3-point range. At times, they produced easy looks at the basket with quick ball movement against an unsettled defense in transition or through penetration that created the same types of shots as passes pinged to the open man. FSU’s M.J. Walker capitalized often on those opportunities as he made 5 of 6 3-pointers en route to 17 points. Sardaar Calhoun made 2 of 3 triples to get in on that passing action for 6 points too, while six other Noles canned a single trey as well.
That included RaiQuan Gray, who muscled his way to 15 points on 6-10 shooting, while Balsa Koprivica added 9 points with a mid-second half flurry. Anthony Polite and Scottie Barnes helped break down the defense as Polite recorded 8 points and 2 assists, while Barnes added 7 points and 6 assists. RayQuan Evans and Gray also had 3 assists each. In total, FSU logged an assist on 17 of 29 made shots. That included 13 assists that led to 3-pointers.
For a program that rose to the national elite behind its defensive prowess, it’s an unfamiliar pattern.
“If you want a chance to beat a team of this caliber, or that is playing at this level in this setting, you can’t be a sometimes really good defensively, you have to be all the time good in the areas that you have control over,” Bennett said. “We can’t control if they can make a big time shot or an acrobatic play, but we can control if our defenses set, if we’re active on the ball, if we’re in position and not committing some lapse of judgments. I think that was the part that was we have to look into and say, ‘How good can we be, how good do we want to be.’ That to me was the disappointing part, because we were there for a while and then all of a sudden if it went away that quickly. … Hats off to Florida State, they are that good when they are playing like this, and they’re inspired.”
While Florida State looked comfortable on offense throughout the night, Virginia did not. Certainly FSU’s aggressive style had a lot to do with that as it included some fullcourt pressure, switching on a lot of screens, and guarding the ball tightly no matter who had the ball or where it was located. Early in the game, that led to a rough stretch where the hosts blew the game open.
After taking a quick 6-2 lead on a pair of 3-pointers from Trey Murphy III and Sam Hauser, the Cavaliers crumbled over the next 10:59 of action. They made just 2 of 11 shots and committed 4 turnovers as the Seminoles turned the scoreboard into a 30-11 rout.
Virginia never recovered from that blitz, though it did try to make things interesting early in the second half. Behind 10 points from Kihei Clark and 3-pointers from Hauser and Murphy again, the Hoos trimmed a 45-25 halftime deficit to 48-41 in just 5:36. That push was met with an immediate response from Florida State as the hosts had the lead back to 20+ points by the 10-minute mark and no drama was left in the outcome.
Murphy led the Wahoos with 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Clark and Tomas Woldetensae added 12 points each with Clark chipping in 4 assists as well. Hauser got to double digits with 11 points and 5 rebounds, but he was largely a non-factor offensively. The Seminoles locked down Jay Huff too as he produced 4 points with 2 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
The Cavaliers shot 46.8% overall and 39.1% from 3-point range, but committed 13 turnovers as well. That’s not a disastrous set of numbers, but it also wasn’t nearly enough in a game where FSU was rolling offensively with little resistance. The Seminoles have won 24 straight conference home games, the second longest streak in ACC history.
The Hoos will try to regroup for a trip to Duke that’s scheduled next.
“It’s going to be up to the coaches but, if I can talk for the players, just be ready to fight every game,” Woldetensae said. “People have to want it. Also, adjusting to the pressure. Just working on, being ready to handle pressure better, go through our plays better and to attack them, not just be attacked.”
“That’s one of our pillars, thankfulness [to] be thankful for what adversity teaches you and are you wise enough and thankful enough to apply it,” Bennett said. “So here we are in every situation, it refocuses you in ways I think that you need it. Again, we’ve been playing some good basketball, for sure we have. It wasn’t tonight, partly due to Florida State, partly due to us, but apply it. I think that was our third or fourth game in a short amount of time. So we take a day off, recharge and then you come back guns a blazing with your tenacity, your approach, and your focus. We’re getting down to the end, that’s the thing. You don’t want to leave anything on the table. That’s what we got to do moving forward.”