The 15th-ranked Hoos were returning to JPJ after a two game road trip, its first home game of the semester. A packed and rowdy sellout crowd awaited, ready to explode. The rival Hokies, coming off an 0-4 start in the conference, were coming to town. All seemed to be set up for a Wahoo romp over Tech....but the Hoos chose this game to lay an egg, falling to their in-state rivals 47-45.
There isn't much to say about this one. To be fair, part of that is because, after all of the energy that went into this one, it still hurts to consider writing about the outcome. But a complex breakdown isn't really necessary to understand what went wrong. Rather, we could look at two simple numbers: 1 for 14 three point shooting and 14 of 22 from the free throw line.
Sammy Zeglinski has given us more cause for concern, as he continues to be streaky, especially in big games. After missing 5 threes against Duke on 0-8 shooting, he went 0 for 7 against Tech, clanking 6 three-pointers. Considering Sammy's great start to the year, it's tough to put a finger on what the issue is, but the team needs him to regain his confidence quickly. Tony Bennett reported that Zeglinski is still recovering from a bout with the flu, which likely affected his legs late in the game, but those missed shots really hurt.
There was no one to pick up the jump-shooting slack, either, as Joe Harris, Paul Jesperson, and Malcolm Brogdon also combined to shoot 0 for 6 from downtown (Jontel Evans made the team's only three). When UVA tried to go inside, they drew fouls at a high rate, but poor free-throw shooting hurt down the stretch. Poor shooting was contagious and made the clear difference in the game.
Despite their offensive woes, the Hoos stayed in the game by feeding off the crowd's energy and playing tough defense, shutting down dribble-drive opportunities, while also closing out quickly on VT's guards. However, the Hokies came out of halftime and quickly extended their lead to 7. With 12 minutes to play, UVA went on an 8-0 run to retake the lead, igniting a crowd that was waiting to explode. The remainder of the game was as intense as it gets, as fans urged the tiring players to extend the margin; however, the Hoos never pulled away.
Nursing a 2 point lead with 2 minutes to go, UVA (allegedly) committed two key fouls. On the first, Zeglinski appeared to draw a charge, but the referees, perhaps eager to "even out" the foul margin, whistled him for a block as he fell to the ground, feet set and outside the charge circle. Down 44-43 with 50 seconds to go, the team had one more chance to make a stop and win the game. Predictably, Dorenzo Hudson drilled a three, all but putting the game out of reach.
While shooting certainly was the story of the night, credit the Virginia Tech gameplan for shutting down Mike Scott. Consistently double-teamed, he was denied touches and was relegated to spending his time setting screens at the top of the key. His jumper, usually automatic, didn't fall, and he didn't have many chances, as defenders gave him little room to work. With the loss of Assane Sene and struggles in the backcourt, the team could have used its star to lean on.
To replace Sene, Akil Mitchell saw the largest subsequent increase in playing time and filled in as admirably as one could expect. He made little impact on the box score but held his own against an undersized Virginia Tech frontcourt. Assane Sene's expert hedging on high ball screens was missed; Mike Scott took the job over for the most part and thus was forced to expend more energy on defense than team would have liked.
Although the game was one that should have been won, reading into the result too much isn't useful. UVA is the better team by any measure and would surely win the vast majority of these games if replayed. Poor shooting games happen, often at terrible times, and could only be overcome by coming out confident the next time. It's a good bet that this loss will be remembered, both by fans and as a "bad loss" by the postseason committee. The team's challenge is to win enough games down the stretch to render it meaningless in the scheme of things.
Virginia has a chance to recover and start a new winning streak when Boston College, this year's ACC bottom-feeder, visits Thursday at 9 PM. The Golden Eagles are 7-12 on the year and feature one of the worst offenses that UVA will see all year. Look for the team to take care of business then, and hopefully get the flow of the offense back on track.