Virginia falls at home to VCU in 59-56 thriller

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoos fell just short in a chance to start the season off with a bang

In a true battle between two great teams in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham's deep three-point jumper with 1.4 seconds to play made the difference, propelling #14 VCU to a 59-56 victory over #25 Virginia.  A raucous crowd was in place at John Paul Jones Arena for the showdown between in-state teams, but the Hoos ultimately lost the game at the free-throw line in a foul-riddled game.  The loss drops UVA to 1-1 on the season.

Virginia owned a 6 point lead with under 3 minutes to play after a cold blooded jumper by Darion Atkins, one of just 5 jump shots the team sank on the night.  However, UVA failed to put together another successful possession, while VCU chipped away at the lead, going ahead by 1 with 1:18 remaining.  Malcolm Brogdon was fouled with 11 seconds left, but made just 1 of 2 free throws, setting up Graham's game-winner.  The Hoos defended the final possession well, forcing a three-pointer from 5 feet behind the arc that was decently contested by London Perrantes, but the shot found the net, letting the air out of the JPJ crowd.

For much of the game, the story was the new foul rules; the refs called 48 personal fouls on the evening, resulting in a combined 48 free-throw attempts.  The Hoos shot 33 FTs (compared with 46 attempted field goals), but made just 19, a 57.8% clip.  VCU fared poorly too, making just 6 of 15.

Joe Harris led the Hoos with 18 points on 7-12 shooting, including some characteristically eye-popping drives to the hoop.  Harris would love to have his two missed free-throws with four minutes to play back, but Wahoo fans were glad to see the player they were accustomed to after a quiet night against JMU.

With Harris looking to score at the rim and Evan Nolte sitting out for precautionary reasons, UVA attempted and made few jump shots; after shooting 22% on threes against JMU, the team was 1 of 8 tonight.  Instead, the team had success getting the ball inside and drawing contact.  Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins were the primary weapons in the front court, scoring 9 and 8, respectively.  Atkins was the go-to option for his defense, taking time from Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey.  Gill scored zero points, and looked to be often out of position in Tony Bennett's packline defense.

Brogdon and London Perrantes did an admirable job against VCU's "Havoc" defense.  Each turned the ball over 4 times, but kept the team steady in a difficult situation.

The Wahoo defense played a strong game, allowing just 56 points in 67 possessions (.84 PPP); the Rams' dribble penetration led to some buckets that were poorly contested inside, but the Hoos somehow kept VCU off the free-throw line and won the battle of the boards, rebounding 78.4% of VCU misses to VCU's DReb% of 62.5%.

At the end of the day, the Hoos were in good position to win the game but failed to protect the lead down the stretch.  It's a story we have seen all too often the past few seasons, and is likely attributable to the small margin for error inherent in the Bennett system.  As Bennett loves to tell his players, fans have to try avoid letting their lows feel too low and their highs too high.  (Easier said than done, as I am currently scared I will throw up all over my computer).  But those high highs will surely come.

So yes, this one hurts, but the team will have a chance to start a new winning streak at Davidson Saturday.  Tipoff is at noon, and the game will not be televised.  (Seriously.  That's what we get for playing on the road in the SoCon).  The Wildcats are 0-2, losing at Duke and at home to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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