USA TODAY Sports
Just a week after an emotional win, the Hoos have dug themselves a pre-NCAA Tournament hole.
Needing a win to stay in good position to make a second straight NCAA Tournament, Virginia came out flat against the Seminoles on the road, then saw a late comeback fall short after more Michael Snaer heroics. Despite trailing much of the night, the Hoos used a furious 15-3 run to take a 51-50 lead with 1:28 to play. However, Florida State regained possession with 21 seconds to play and Snaer hit a runner in the paint while getting fouled to seal a 53-51 win. The loss has obvious postseason implications for the Hoos, who have lost two straight after an emotional win over Duke.
For much of the night, Virginia simply didn't play like it recognized the gravity of the moment. Joe Harris was stymied by a physical Florida State defense, and his teammates had trouble creating open shots in his absence. And, unlike some earlier performances, the Wahoo defense failed to pick the offense up against a Seminole team lacking weapons. The Hoos displayed a visible increase in intensity during their late game run; playing hard late in the game is good, but playing hard for 40 minutes wins basketball games.
After Joe Harris sunk two free throws, a defensive stop gave the ball back to the Hoos, leading by 1, with 57 seconds to play. A quick offensive play, giving the team a chance at a "two for one" opportunity, could have been the play here, though a decision to work the possession and find the best shot available would have been more characteristic. However, Coach Bennett's decision to have Jontel Evans burn time, not starting an offensive set until the shot clock went under 10, then initiate without a touch for Joe Harris was inexplicable. Essentially, the Hoos squandered the majority of their possession to force FSU to have only about 20 seconds to run a play of its own. Tony Bennett always preaches the importance of valuing possessions but let 25 seconds of a vital one (or a whole extra one if he opted for the 2-for-1) slip away.
Akil Mitchell's missed layup set the scene for Snaer's game-winner. The FSU star, matched up with Joe Harris, beat his man to his left, and got the ball just over the outstretched arm of Justin Anderson. UVA regained possession with 4 seconds to play, but Harris lost the ball and couldn't corral it in time to get off a shot of his own before the clock expired.
Though Florida State has been quite poor defensively this season (10th in the ACC in defensive efficiency), Leonard Hamilton crafted a scheme that perfectly countered UVA's strengths. The Seminoles have the athleticism to switch on screens and avoid matchup issues, and they did so all game to shut down Joe Harris and the team's bread and butter. The Hoos shot 39% from the field and just 2 of 14 from behind the arc, while Harris scored 13 points on 5 of 15 shooting.
In fact, Virginia was fortunate to have managed its offensive output of 51 points in 52 possessions. The team crushed Florida State on the offensive boards, pulling in 43% of its own misses including multiple put-backs and tip-ins for Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell. The two Wahoo big men also were forced to settle for some deep jumpers early and knocked them down; Tobey finished with 12 points on 6 of 9 shooting and Akil with 15 on 6 of 10 shooting to add to 12 rebounds.
However, he team's point guard woes continued. Jontel Evans shot 1 of 8, finishing with just 2 assists. Florida State sagged far off the senior point guard all night, daring him to shoot, and their strategy succeeded when he obliged. Factoring in Teven Jones and Taylor Barnette, who also saw time at the "1," Virginia PGs finished a staggeringly inefficient 1 for 11 with 2 assists, 2 TOs, and 2 rebounds.
Speaking of continuing woes, Virginia shot 5 foul shots all night. UVA came into the game 318th in the nation, averaging .30 FTA/FGA, and was under .10 in that stat tonight. Offense is way easier when scoring points standing unguarded 15 feet from the basket.
In the big picture, this one hurts. The win over Duke gave the Hoos some breathing room down the stretch, but the BC loss eliminated it and losing at FSU puts the team in a stranglehold. Though the decisions of the Selection Committee are inherently unpredictable, the team's season finale at home against Maryland is probably a must-win if the Hoos want a shot at an at-large bid going into the ACC Tournament.
If UVA beats Maryland it would be a #5 seed in the ACC Tournament unless FSU goes on to upset NC State this weekend. (A loss to Maryland would also lock UVA in at #5). In Greensboro, a first-round win over Virginia Tech won't do anything to help UVA's resume. The Hoos will likely need a quarterfinal win to have a realistic chance going into Selection Sunday, and a semifinal appearance to feel good.
Coach Bennett stresses that players not let their highs get too high nor their lows too low. This applies more than ever to Wahoo fans now. After the high of the Duke win, it is easy to get down on a team that has so far failed to capitalize on the opportunity it had earned. However, the season is far from over. Other bubble teams besides the Hoos have lost games too; that's why they are bubble teams and not #1 seeds. UVA has put itself in poor shape, but the season isn't over. The drive to bounce back starts on Senior Night this Sunday against Maryland on ESPNU.