FSU came out guns a-blazin’, connecting on four of its first five shots from three-point range, then going 5-for-7 from the floor over a four-minute stretch a little later to go up 29-18 with 5:54 to go in the first half.
Even when UVA was able to stanch that bleeding, holding the Seminoles without a field goal for the rest of the first half, it was not able to take much advantage, limping into the break down 10, 32-22.
So, you’re down 10, you’ve got two key guys, Isaiah Wilkins and De’Andre Hunter, in foul trouble. Your best shooter, Kyle Guy, is 1-of-7 from the floor.
Then, to your credit, you come out of the locker room with some adjustments, on the offensive end taking the ball to the basket more, on defense clogging up the perimeter on pick-and-rolls.
Virginia gets back to within three a couple of times, and it feels like it’s game on.
Florida State quickly counterpunched the second time it got to three, getting an offensive rebound basket, then a three in transition, to go back up eight.
For many teams, this is when the white flag starts waving. You’re on the road, your shots aren’t falling, you work yourself back into the game, and then like the Roadrunner beep-beeping away from Wile E. Coyote, you’re basically back where you started.
Virginia got back up off the deck again, with an 11-2 run that put the ‘Hoos back on top. Florida State counters again, goes up three.
Another UVA run, this one also 11-2, put the Cavaliers up six.
It wasn’t easy to close out. Florida State twice hit a pair of free throws in the final couple of minutes to cut the UVA lead to two, but Virginia got stops on defense when it needed them.
And closed it out.
Most teams can win with their A game. But when your best defender fouls out, when your bench ace gets 20 minutes because of four fouls and has four points, when your best shooter is 5-of-19 from the floor, on the road, you’re supposed to lose.
That happens in March, your season is over.
This game is muscle memory for Virginia when the NCAA Tournament tips next month. There is going to be at least one night, maybe two or more, when things are just off, like they were tonight in Tallahassee, against an FSU team that is going to get a Big Dance invite.
When that happens, the UVA kids can think back to how they pulled themselves out of a hole and beat a good Florida State team when they should have lost by double digits.
Story by Chris Graham