UVa. overcomes sloppy play, downs Norfolk State in NIT, 67-56
Fifteen missed free throws. Seventeen turnovers. Virginia seemed hell-bent on proving the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee right in not giving the Cavs an at-large bid to the Big Dance. But then UVa. was able to pull it together enough down the stretch to pull away from a pesky Norfolk State team to win 67-56 Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT.
On a night when another #1 seed in the NIT field, Kentucky, went down to defeat, Virginia (22-11) was able to avoid the upset through clutch play down the stretch from freshman Justin Anderson, who made four straight free throws and hit an end-of-the-shot-clock jumper after the Spartans (21-12) had cut the lead to four late.
An Akil Mitchell steal and dunk pushed the lead to 57-47 at 2:09, and the ‘Hoos would cruise from there.
But it was not easy. Virginia, which came into the game averaging just 10 turnovers per game, committed that many in the first half alone, and needed a late 7-0 spurt to go into the locker room up 10 at 26-16.
The margin hovered around the low-double-figures area until a 9-1 Norfolk State run capped by a Rob Johnson layup cut the lead to three at 38-35 at the 10:08 mark.
Virginia helped keep NSU in the game with uncharacteristically poor shooting from the free-throw line. After coming into the game shooting 71.4 percent from the line on the season, good for third in the ACC, the Cavs made just nine of their first 20 shots from the stripe before making 13 of their last 17 in the final 10 minutes.
UVa. shot 47.6 percent (20-of-52) from the field and 38.5 percent (5-of-13) from three-point range. Norfolk State, the regular-season champs in the MEAC after going 16-0, before losing in the first round of the MEAC Tournament, shot just 26.9 percent from the field (14-of-52) and 37.5 percent from three (6-of-16).
Mitchell had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Virginia. Anderson also had 15 points and added five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one blocked shot.
First-team All-ACC performer Joe Harris had 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field.
Johnson and Pendarvis Williams each had 16 points for Norfolk State, but combined to shoot just 9-of-30 from the field in the process.
Virginia will next face St. John’s, a 63-61 winner over St. Joseph’s. A date and time for the game has not yet been announced.