Scott German: ‘Rough and rugged’ Virginia outguts #5 FSU

jay huff

Jay Huff swats away a close-in shot to help turn the tide on the Seminoles, who led for most of the contest. GroganVision photo.

On his weekly radio program Monday evening, Virginia coach Tony Bennett spoke about how this year’s team by necessity had to become a “rough and rugged” type of personality.

For the first 38 minutes of Tuesday’s contest against 5th-ranked Florida State, “rough and rugged” pretty much described the Cavaliers’ effort.

Virginia, while not pretty at times, fought and clawed its way to staying within three points of the Seminoles.

Photo Gallery: Virginia defeats #5 Florida State

But Virginia closed the game scoring on seven of its last eight possessions, outscoring FSU 8-0 to claim a huge 61-56 Atlantic Coast Conference win here in john Paul Jones Arena.

The win snapped a 10-game winning streak by the Seminoles, who arguably had entered the contest as the nation’s hottest team.

Virginia, improving to 6-4 in ACC action and 14-6 overall, posted a possible signature win for the program in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but most importantly the effort may have provided the Cavaliers a blueprint of what the second half of league play may look like.

“I think we established how we have to play,” Bennett said. “Just keep moving the needle in areas a little bit. It was a good step, but there’s miles to go before we sleep, so to speak,” added Bennett, referencing the famous phrase used by Robert Frost, in his poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Virginia shot 44 percent from the floor and was able to overcome 17 turnovers. The Cavaliers’ new Big Three all stepped to center stage tonight.

Mamadi Diakite led the Cavaliers with 19 points and was huge on the boards against the tall-timbers of FSU, grabbing nine rebounds. Kihei Clark twisted and turned his way for 15 points, while Braxton Key, playing practically one-handed. added 13 points and nine rebounds.

Key calmly sank 5-of-6 foul shots down the crucial stretch of the game to help the Cavaliers to the win. The smallest player on the floor for Virginia, Clark, played huge in the second half. Trailing 56-53 with 1:50 left, the 5-foot-9 Clark made two of the night’s biggest plays.

Clark’s lob pass to Jay Huff, perfectly thrown, ended with a thunderous dunk, slicing the lead to one at 56-55. On Virginia’s next possession, Clark made a remarkable reverse layup against two FSU defenders to put the Cavaliers up for good at 57-56.

Virginia did the little things right tonight, and they did the big things right as well. The Cavaliers blocked out well, as evidenced by outrebounding the taller Seminoles. Virginia made the best of going to the free throw line by converting 20-of-23 foul shots. The tangibles, the intangibles, they all showed up in the final box score tonight for the Cavaliers.

So while it wasn’t a snowy evening in Charlottesville, this current Virginia team may have learned they have promises to keep and found a way to keep them.

Story by Scott German

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