Winning NCAA Tournament games is supposed to be fun. And tonight, the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers won their first-round game, the program's first NCAA victory since 2007. But it wasn't much fun for Wahoo fans, as the team was forced to overcome a 10 point first-half deficit against Coastal Carolina before pulling away late. The Hoos locked down defensively and used excellent three-point shooting to defeat the Chanticleers 70-59, keeping 1 seeds' perfect 120-0 record against 16 seeds intact.
Though Virginia looked strong out of the gate, taking an early 11-7 lead, Coastal Carolina wouldn't go away. The Wahoo defense struggled a bit with Coastal's quick guards, and the #16 seed wouldn't miss shots. They made contested threes and nailed turn-around jumpers...but also got more than their fair share of open looks. The Hoos allowed 1.19 PPP in the first half; that's a pretty poor total in college basketball as a whole, but a shocking one from one of the nation's best defenses against the tournament's worst offense, as rated by KenPom.
UVA's struggles on defense seemed to rattle them on the other side of the ball as well, as the team made just one-field goal during a ten-minute stretch. London Perrantes's two three-pointers (he'd sink another in the second half) appeared to steady the ship, but the Chanticleers kept making baskets and took a 31-21 lead with 3 minutes to play in the first. Virginia would slice that to 5 by halftime, but it took another 4 minutes before the team finally took the lead.
Impressively, Coastal Carolina continued to hang around, tying the game with nine to play on an Elijah Wilson three. But the Hoos pulled away down the stretch on the strength of 8 big points from Evan Nolte, who hadn't made multiple three-pointers since the ACC opener against FSU. Tonight, he hit two big corner threes, then showed a nice pump-fake, sinking another jumper. By that time, he and the team were all smiles, Teven Jones was dancing, and the Hoos had averted disaster. The boisterous pro-UVA crowd that had urged the team on all evening was particularly relieved.
As a team, the Hoos shot 47% from behind the arc, but Coastal Carolina, who averaged under 33% on the year, matched that total. UVA didn't turn the ball over, finishing with 7, but the usually turnover-prone Chanticleers had just 8. Ultimately, the Hoos also were able to score and get to the line, and that was just far too much for the overmatched but gutty Coastal Carolina squad to overcome.
Anthony Gill led the Hoos with 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting, as he continues to be too strong and aggressive for opponents to guard, especially overmatched ones like Coastal. Brogdon had 14 points, but 9 came from the line, as he shot just 2-8 from the field. The aforementioned London Perrantes had 12; he hit 3 of 4 from behind the arc, and got fouled shooting another, making all three FTS. And Joe Harris had 11 on 3-8 shooting.
After the game, Coach Bennett admitted there was "bickering" in the locker room during halftime, and that he had to remind players about the team unity that had carried them so far. While Wahoos fans would probably prefer that these reminders weren't necessary, a little intensity when trailing a #16 seed isn't the worst thing.
In many ways, tonight's game was a strange one. The Hoos' vaunted offense finished allowing a point per possession against a bad offense from the Big South. UVA shut down the defensive boards, bringing in 84% of Coastal's misses...but the Chanticleers somehow beat that, not allowing the Hoos a SINGLE offensive rebound. The PNC Arena floor was having all kinds of issues, as players couldn't stop slipping. Poor Joe Harris looked like he was playing on the icy surface that sits directly under the hardwood. At the end of the day, "survive and advance" is all that matters.
Virginia will take on Memphis on Sunday and will need to be better defensively. The Tigers beat George Washington in a hard-played if sloppy affair earlier in the day. Memphis is balanced and guard-oriented, which work in their favor against UVA, but they also turn the ball over a ton and don't rebound well on defense, both of which the Hoos have taken advantage of. That game in Raleigh will tip off at 8:30 PM on Sunday night (or after the Tennessee-Mercer game prior concludes).