Is it important to get a win in a tight game? Virginia would say: yes
Reporters like to ask dumb questions like, is it good to get a win in a tight game, after winning a bunch of games that aren’t tight?
You’d rather win than lose, one, and two, yeah, you’re not going to win every game going away.
Sometimes you have to endure an opponent making tough shot after tough shot, seeing a guy shimmy on your logo at mid-court after making a three to put his team up nine with 10 to go.
Virginia knows that.
The banner hanging over the floor at JPJ is there after that 2019 team had to rally from 14 down to a 16 seed, a year after losing by 20 to a 16 seed, ahead of watching Carsen Edwards make everything including a bank three, then having Kihei Clark chase a rebound into the backcourt, having Kyle Guy make three free throws inside of a second to go, going to OT with Texas Tech.
You want to win a championship, you have to win tight games.
Stop the presses.
So, OK, dumb question.
Jose Alvarado hit a three over Jay Huff on a switch that put Georgia Tech up 54-45 with 10 to go.
He shimmied, he shaked, he salsa’d at center court, staring down the UVA bench.
It felt like Georgia Tech’s night.
The UVA huddle, at the next media timeout, was oddly … calm.
I was typing a comment on our live blog about how the Cavaliers were looking frustrated, and the players, sitting on chairs, waiting for coach Tony Bennett to join them, to give direction, were … applauding.
Sam Hauser, on the next possession, hit a three, then hit another on the next UVA trip, and it was a ballgame.
A 15-2 run put Virginia ahead, and a Kihei Clark floater with 1:08 to go was the difference in a 64-62 win.
This all preceded the dumb questions for Bennett, and Hauser and Jay Huff – the two players we had access to on the postgame Zoom.
“I’ve been in probably a million two-point games with one minute left in my five years here. It’s pretty freaking ridiculous, actually. But for some of the first years, that’s something that they got to get used to,” said Huff, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
“I think we just, you know, we learn from it. There were definitely mistakes that were made, but it also just helps to grow you as a player being involved in those type of late-situation games,” Huff said.
Huff is one of the old guys – actually, it’s Huff and Clark, in terms of guys who were contributors in the 2019 title run.
Kody Stattmann got some garbage-time minutes that year. I remember Francisco Caffaro, who redshirted that year, being a big help on title-game night, sticking his outstretched arms high on closeouts in warmups to make it tough on De’Andre Hunter.
So, yeah, for everybody else out there, tonight was a lesson.
“Well, I mean, you can’t just wait around in a game like that, especially when you’re down,” said Hauser, who was at Marquette in 2019, before sitting out a redshirt year at UVA in 2020.
“You’ve got to flip the switch and turn it on, and I felt like me and Jay got more aggressive. Whether we were making the shot or someone else, our aggressiveness opened up a lot of things, I felt like. So, we definitely just stuck with it and ended up on top.”
Hauser scored 11 of his game-high 22 in that 15-2 run that flipped the script for UVA – three threes and a nifty two on an up-and-under.
He finished 9-of-12 from the field and 4-of-5 from three – his second straight 4-of-5 night from long-range.
This from a guy who had been shooting 33.3 percent from three through his first 10 games at Virginia.
Two big nights, and he’s suddenly at 40.9 percent.
“Shooters shoot, and, you know, it can ebb and flow a little bit, but just seeing his body of work, in practices, over the summers, last year ,and then obviously this season, no question, they were big ones,” Bennett said.
When your studs put up 40 on 16-of-23 shooting, 6-of-8 from three, you assume you’re good.
The other veteran, Clark, a junior who was a starter on that 2019 title team, didn’t have his best night.
While Alvarado was shimmying his way to 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 4-of-5 from three, Clark started the night 0-of-8 from the field – the eighth miss the most costly.
Clark dribble-drove his way to the hoop for a wide-open layup that would have put UVA up six with 2:41 to go, but the shot rimmed out, and Clark, frustrated with himself, was late getting back on D, leaving Michael Devoe open for a three that he was able to splash to get Tech back to within one.
The score was tied at 62 when Clark got back into the lane and was able to knock down a floater that put Virginia back on top with what turned out to be the game-winning points.
“Kihei struggled at times, but boy, did he make a tough, tough shot,” Bennett said.
“Kihei’s a competitor, and you can see that in him. Staying aggressive and taking a big shot like that shows his character, and that he’s just he just wants to win, and he’s going to do whatever it take,s and we trust him in that situation,” Hauser said.
That’s almost the definition of a tough win.
Guy makes one shot all night, and it’s the game-winner.
It might not have been pretty, but actually, it was.
Credit to Georgia Tech. That’s an NCAA Tournament team over there.
Alvarado, Devoe, Jordan Usher, Moses Wright – they’ll be a tough out come March Madness.
They were a tough out Saturday night in JPJ.
Virginia got the out.
That’s a nice pelt to hang up.
Story by Chris Graham