Story by Scott German
N.C. State outscored Virginia in the second half 42-40, however, it was far too little to overcome a horrendous first-half performance by the Wolfpack in dropping a 78-60 Atlantic Coast Conference matchup to the Cavaliers in John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia’s second straight ACC win was fueled by Sean Singletary’s 21 points and seven steals and sent State (15-12 4-9 ACC) to its fifth straight conference loss.
The Cavaliers had nearly twice as many steals in the first half as the Wolfpack had turnovers, which resulted in a lopsided 38-18 UVa. lead at the break.
Virginia (13-12, 3-9 ACC) had 11 first-half steals, and forced 17 turnovers by State, converting the mistakes into 17 points. When the Wolfpack did get a shot off, it seldom found net, as they shot just 23 percent in first-half play. State finished the game with 25 turnovers.
“It’s very difficult to win basketball games when you commit 25 turnovers,” said NCSU coach Sidney Lowe. “Give Virginia credit, they played solid, aggressive defense,” added Lowe.
Singletary had 13 points and six steals in the first half, at times taking the ball away from the State guards with relative ease.
Virginia, which entered the contest as the league’s worst shooting team, burned the nets for 55 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes and finished the game connecting on 47.5 percent.
“I thought we took good shots the entire contest. We took the ball inside and worked the ball well,” said Virginia coach Dave Leitao. “But no question about it, our aggressive defensive play was the key tonight. That first half we were so active, our hands were everywhere,” praised Leitao.
Virginia’s Calvin Baker said it was certainly a team effort defensively. “Everyone knew his role. We were very active, our hands were quick and forced a lot of deflections. Heck, if Coach (Leitao) was pleased, then we know we played tough” said the William and Mary transfer.
The Cavaliers finished the game with 16 steals, which set a JPJA record. The second-half lead grew to as many as 27 points for Virginia (50-23) before NCSU began to find an offensive groove, but it was too little, too late. The Wolfpack trimmed the deficit to 14 on two occasions, but was unable to get any closer.
Baker joined Singletary in double-digit scoring with 15 points, while teammates Jeff Jones, Adrian Joseph and Mamadi Diane each added nine. Virginia’s interior defense was again sparked by Lars Mikalauskas, who challenged the Wolfpack post players in every touch. Mikalauskas said he is starting to get his basketball legs, playing his third game after nearly a two-month absence.
“I’m able to play in longer spurts, which gives me the confidence I need to be aggressive on both ends of the floor” said Mikalauskas. When asked about his being credited with three assists, the junior said, “After missing my first three shots, I figured I needed to think of another way of contributing offensively.”
Virginia gets back to action next Saturday with a 2 p.m. contest at Miami.
Scott German is a SportsDominion correspondent.