Virginia suffers damaging loss, falling to hapless Old Dominion 63-61

USA TODAY Sports

Against 1-10 Old Dominion, the Hoos looked to stretch their eight-game winning streak. Instead, UVA fell 63-61 at the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic in a loss that will haunt them all season.

After a stunning series of events at the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond, Virginia chalked up a giant "L" into the "bad loss" column, falling to Old Dominion 63-61. Dimitri Batten dropped 23 points, including 5 of 8 shooting from behind the arc, leading the Monarchs to the neutral court upset. The Hoos were stagnant throughout, squandering a ten-point second half lead and seeing a late-game comeback attempt come up short. With the loss, UVA fell to 9-3 and endured a dramatic hit to its hopes of playing in March. ODU improved to 2-10, snapping a nine-game losing streak.

Virginia almost pulled out a miraculous comeback after falling behind by seven points with 1:09 to play. Joe Harris and Evan Nolte each made three pointers that bounced between rim and backboard before falling, and Nolte converted a three-point play to cut the lead to 1 point with 18 seconds remaining. However, needing a three to tie the game, Teven Jones hit a jumper with his feet on the three-point line, and Harris's attempt at a game-winning heave slipped out of his hands, sending the Hoos home with a loss.

The team's struggles were evident on both sides of the ball. Even with a lead as wide as 34-24 early in the second half, signs of UVA's post-exam break hangover would not disappear. After Wednesday's 18 point win over Morgan State, Coach Tony Bennett commented, "I thought (our effort) was poor. I thought we were undisciplined." The Hoos showed the same issues tonight.

ODU Coach Blaine Taylor drew up a game plan that took advantage of UVA's weaknesses. The Hoos never looked particularly inspired on defense, and eventually tired of running around high-ball screens for 30 seconds each possession. Though the team allowed just 20 points on 25 first-half ODU possessions, the success was mostly smoke and mirrors against a poor, inexperienced, and undermanned Monarch team that initially failed to capitalize. ODU went on to score 43 points in 34 second-half possessions, about .4 PPP above UVA's average defensive effort to date. Virginia looked gassed, and an active Monarch substitution pattern kept Taylor's team fresh.

There was a noticeable effort gap between the teams; the Hoos obviously badly wanted to win the game but didn't show the same 40 minutes of focus and intensity as their in-state foes. This affected UVA's rust on defense, failure to get to 50-50 balls, slow close-outs on three-point attempts (24 of ODU's 50 FG attempts were from behind the arc), and poor rebounding effort. Virginia brought in 24 out of 36 defensive rebounding opportunities (67%), while Old Dominion was 27 of 35 (77%).

Also striking was UVA's failure to dominate the interior, which the team had done dramatically against previous lesser competition. Against ODU, Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins combined for 12 points on 5-14 shooting. Atkins spent much of the game in foul trouble, eventually fouling out, but neither seemed to have a chance to show off the post moves that had stymied the likes of Mississippi Valley State and Morgan State. ODU's DeShawn Painter, who transferred from NC State, had a large part in stopping the Hoos' interior duo and also finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Joe Harris led UVA with 18 points, shooting 4-8 from three-point range, while Evan Nolte added 15, including 3-5 three-point shooting. The team as a whole shot 43% from behind the arc; overall, 21 of UVA's 52 field goal attempts were from three-point range, demonstrating the team's struggles to score from inside the paint.

Wahoo fans in attendance, as well as players and coaches, were demonstrably and probably justifiably upset at the officiating; Tony Bennett was steamed after a phantom out-of-bounds call went in ODU's favor, and Atkins was lucky to avoid a technical foul for arguing when a block that appeared clean was ruled his 4th foul. However, officiating will not come close to explaining a loss to a now 2-10 team ranked 237th in the nation by Ken Pomeroy.

Though addressing NCAA hopes may seem comical after such a loss, it is tough to overstate its harmful effects. The team's already precarious RPI (106 before the game) will be tough to recover from, and a March committee that could have excused early season losses to GMU and Delaware because of injuries will badly punish UVA for this one. ODU has already lost to the likes of VMI and UTSA, and will likely continue to bring down Virginia's strength of schedule.

Luckily, the Hoos will not see anymore teams out of the Colonial Athletic Conference this season; the team is 0-3 against CAA squads and 9-0 against everyone else.

Virginia will have a week to sleep on their performance in Richmond before Wofford comes to town on the 30th to conclude out-of-conference play. The continued absence of Jontel Evans has been a major drag on the skidding Cavaliers, and indications are that he should return for that matchup in Charlottesville.

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