UVa. rallies, knocks off Pack, claims second place in ACC
The win, the fourth in a row for Virginia, lifts the Cavaliers (15-5, 5-2 ACC) to sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The W is also an important addition to the Cavs’ NCAA Tournament resume as their first win over a team ranked in the RPI Top 25 in the 2012-2013 season.
It didn’t look out of the gate like the night would end with UVa. getting that signature win. State (16-5, 5-3 ACC) led 17-7 midway through the first half, and after a Wahoo run cut the lead to one, the Wolfpack responded with an 12-2 run that made it 29-18 at the 1:54 mark of the half.
A three from Joe Harris and a dunk and free throw by Akil Mitchell helped cut the lead to 31-24 at the break, and Virginia came out of the locker room with a different focus.
“We knew that in the first half, we didn’t play particularly well offensively, but at the same time, we didn’t feel that we played our best defensive half, that we gave up way too many second-chance points. They kind of just bullied us around and out-toughed us in the first half. That was our focal point in the second half,” Harris said.
A Mike Tobey jumper at the 12:31 mark gave UVa. its first lead of the game at 39-38. A mini five-point run that began at the 8:39 mark with a C.J. Leslie jumper and ended at 8:15 with a Scott Wood three-pointer gave the Pack a 47-42 lead and the momentum.
Evan Nolte answered with a three on the other end, and Virginia knotted the game back up at 49 on a Tobey layup at the 6:03 mark.
The game turned into trench warfare at that point. It was 54-all when Mitchell hit a 19-footer to give Virginia what turned out to be the game-winning points.
It was still 56-55 in the final minute when Jontel Evans was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. Evans, who had bricked all three attempts after getting fouled shooting a halfcourt shot at the end of the first half, calmly sank both ends.
Evans said after the game that UVa. coach Tony Bennett told Evans before the second half to “just focus” at the line, “find your spot on the basket, and that’s what I did.”
Asked by a reporter if he thought about the misses as he headed to the line, he said he didn’t. “I just thought about the two that were in front of me. My concentration was on those. I was focused. I tuned out the crowd, the score, everything. Those were probably the biggest two free throws of my career,” Evans said.
N.C. State had two shots at a tying basket in the final 11 seconds. Joe Harris rebounded the second miss, a wild runner by Wood, and threw the ball toward the Virginia basket as the final seconds ticked down, setting off a delerious home crowd that had been loud and rollicking all night long.
“The crowd was pretty fun. Coming in, we knew it was going to be a crazy atmosphere. To come out with a win is huge, and obviously we enjoy it a lot,” said Harris, who led all scorers with 22 points.
Mitchell scored 14 and pulled down 12 rebounds for UVa. Tobey had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Cavs.
Leslie scored 20 points and snared a game-high 14 rebounds for N.C. State.