Chris Graham: Don’t get too down, UVa. Nation

VCU outscored UVa. 10-1 in the final 2:52. The Cavs missed 14 free throws and committed 19 turnovers. And still Treveon Graham had to hit a 25-footer with a hand in his face with 1.4 seconds left to win it.

tony-bennett-newlinksLet’s face it. VCU is the heavyweight college basketball program in the state of Virginia, and has been for some time. There was a time, maybe about 15 years ago, that Virginia was the big boy in the Commonwealth, but that was before Pete Gillen, before Dave Leitao, long before Tony Bennett.

VCU has been to a Final Four this decade. VCU expects to go to NCAA Tournaments and win games in the Big Dance.

Virginia, on the other hand, just hopes to get a bid to play in March Madness. The program has played four NCAA Tournament games in the past 15 seasons, losing three of them. UVa. hasn’t played on a Saturday of its own conference tournament since 1995.

Virginia was the hunter, VCU the hunted Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd at JPJ.

The large contingent of VCU fans in attendance, most of them students, seemed to come in with a chip on their shoulders, for some reason, about coming into the house of the big state school that plays in the ACC and needing to come out with a win.

To be blunt about it, if it had been Joe Harris making the long three with time running out to win the game for the ‘Hoos, VCU would have still come out looking like roses, going on the road in a hostile environment and losing a nailbiter despite not playing anywhere near their best.

So let’s say this, too, about Virginia. The Cavs played a perennial NCAA Tournament team even for 40 minutes, and had a couple of things gone their way, they win the game.

“I think that Tony has a terrific program,” VCU coach Shaka Smart said. “He has really built the program up to a high level. They have a terrific coach and great players. I think that this is a team that will be very successful in the ACC.”

Virginia took VCU out of its trademark Havoc style of play, holding the Rams to 59 points (16 points off their 2012-2013 season average) and making the Rams earn every point they got.

Virginia is a team that gives a lot of help on drives. They really collapse to defend the paint. I thought they did a great job all night long giving our drivers a tough time and finishing,” Smart said.

Moral victories don’t count on the right side of the won-loss ledger, of course. The Graham shot that went in sent the home fans home feeling like their boys left one on the floor that was theirs for the taking. Virginia scored just one point in the final 2:52, missing three field goals, committing two turnovers and missing a free throw that would have given UVa. the lead with 9.7 seconds to go, and made VCU’s possession that much more interesting.

“We got the guy we wanted at the line (Malcolm Brogdon), and hopefully you’re going to go up by one, and things will be a little different,” Bennett said. “It was a big shot. I think they hit two out of three big ones down the stretch. It was pretty well-defended, and it was an NBA three. So maybe that is all you can ask for. We may have been able to meet him a little sooner, but there was a lot of action going on, and he stepped up and made it.”

Free throws were a killer all night long. Virginia got to the line 32 times, but made just 18 of the free tosses, and it wasn’t like it was the poorer foul shooters who were struggling. Brogdon was 4-for-6, Harris was 3-for-6, including a pair of crucial misses at the 3:55 mark with Virginia up four with momentum.

But that’s all water under the bridge now. Sting as it does, you don’t win or lose a national title on Nov. 12. Both Virginia and VCU looked Tuesday night like teams who can make deep runs in March.

“This was great for the state and college basketball in our own little world,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if Kentucky cares too much about this game, or other programs. It was certainly a good atmosphere. You had to play at a high level. There were a lot of mistakes on our part if you look at the turnovers. It wasn’t a perfect game on either side. I knew going in it would be good for us. We’ve got work to do – but we will grow from it. The excitement leading up to it was certainly there, and I don’t think it disappointed in terms of excitement and quality of the game in terms of the buildup.”

uva basketball team of destiny
Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, by Jerry Ratcliffe and Chris Graham, is now available at a special pre-sale discounted price of $20. The book is expected to ship by June 10, 2019, and will retail for $25.
Pre-order for $20: click here.


The book, with additional reporting by Zach Pereles, Scott Ratcliffe and Scott German, will take you from the aftermath of the stunning first-round loss to UMBC in 2018, and how coach Tony Bennett and his team used that loss as the source of strength, through to the ACC regular-season championship, the run to the Final Four, and the thrilling overtime win over Texas Tech to win the 2019 national title, the first in school history.
 
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