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Lesson learned: If a game is going to be physical, Virginia needs to be physical

kihei clark fsu
Kihei Clark had 12 second half points, but it was not enough to fuel a lasting comeback in an 81-60 UVA loss at Florida State. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Kihei Clark had nothing – almost nothing, no points, two assists – in the first half, and his Virginia team was down 20 at the break.

The adjustment at halftime from Tony Bennett was, more Kihei.

The 5’9” junior was, for about seven minutes, the guy – scoring 12 points, dishing on a three by Sam Hauser, creating another wide-open look for Trey Murphy III.

Leonard Hamilton tried to adjust to Bennett’s adjustment with an early timeout, to no avail.

The run got Virginia as close as seven before Bennett tried to steal a minute around an anticipated media timeout to get Clark a breather.

FSU went on a 7-0 run, got the lead back to mid-double digits, and fired on to a 21-point win.

“You can’t maybe win a game in the first five eight minutes, but you can put yourself in a spot where you can make it dang near impossible to come back, and to put ourselves in that kind of hole is frustrating,” Bennett said after the 81-60 loss in Tallahassee.

Specifics, in terms of Bennett’s halftime adjustment, was to spread the floor, basically going five-high, to give Clark space to create in the lane, with Hauser, Murphy and Jay Huff at various spots on the three-point arc, for spacing.

Clark, for the most part, took advantage by getting himself open looks. He had 12 points in the second half on 5-of-6 shooting, getting to the rim, to mid-range, to the line.

Florida State, to its credit, righted the ship, taking advantage of Clark’s brief respite to initiate what turned into a 17-0 run that broke the game open.

The bigger issue than Clark having to take a breather was the lack of productivity from Hauser (11 points, 3-of-7 shooting) and in particular Jay Huff (four points, two rebounds, 2-of-6 shooting, 0-of-3 from three in 32 minutes).

The two were tough 48 hours ago in Virginia’s 60-48 win over North Carolina on Saturday.

“Finesse-y” doesn’t begin to describe their play on Monday in Florida.

“We talked about it. They are a physical, aggressive team, 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. We’ve said it before, we’re not the most physically imposing team, but we have to do physically imposing things that matter,” Bennett said.

Credit to Florida State for taking advantage of the way the game was called by the guys in the stripes. It was clear early on that contact impeding the progress of guys coming off and through screens and physicality with ball pressure wasn’t going to be called.

It’s like if you’re a cornerback and you don’t get a flag when you are physical with a receiver downfield. You continue doing it until you get the flag, and if it never comes, well, the guy you’re covering isn’t getting a catch that day.

Florida State, as physical as anybody in the country, was whistled for three fouls in the first half, on its way to the 20-point lead, and ended up with 12 for the game.

You get that edge, you still have to take advantage of it, and if you’re on the other side, you have to adjust.

Virginia didn’t adjust until halftime, and after the spasm of comeback from the freakish stretch from Clark, the ‘Hoos simply ran out of gas.

“It’s just trying to grow from it and learn from it,” Bennett said. “I did like how we got it back, I didn’t realize it was seven. I thought it was nine, maybe it was seven. Every time we made a breakdown, they would bang a three, or they get down the floor.”

This is one where you put the lesson learned in the mental reservoir.

If you want to win a national title, there’s going to be a night where the officiating crew is going to let a game get a little more physical, and you have to respond, or have the guy warm up the bus earlier than expected.

In March, and into early April, the teams still playing then aren’t going to get up 20 and let you back into it.

The lesson is: don’t get down 20.

Rise to the level of play required by the circumstances of the night.

This team will learn.

Story by Chris Graham


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