It was an ugly game by all accounts, and one that head coach Tony Bennett hopes that this young Cavalier squad will learn from, but Virginia posted a 69-67 nailbiter win over UNC Wilmington Monday night at John Paul Jones Arena. This was the eight straight win for the Cavaliers , the longest since an eight-game streak to start the 2003-04 season. Virginia is now 10-1 at home, 11-4 overall, and remain 3-0 atop the ACC.
It was a game of streaks for both teams. After leading 14-9 with 14:32 in the half, Virginia shut itself down and allowed UNC Wilmington to go on a 15-0 run over the next 4:14 to make it a 14-24 game.
But just as streaks giveth, streaks taketh away. Virginia apparently awoke from its slumber and went on a 20-0 run of its own over the course of 9 minutes, 46 seconds to make it a 34-24 game. The half closed at 34-27.
Virginia opened the second half with a 13-4 run over 5:08 to make the score 47-34. Wahoo Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief as it appeared as though Virginia was taking command of the game and was looking to close this one out.
However, with 10 turnovers in the second half alone, Virginia was not yet ready to blow open the lead. Midway through the second half, the Seahawks mounted a run of their own, taking about five minutes to go on an impressive 17-2 run that gave UNC Wilmington the 57-56 lead. From there it was a dogfight to the end, with UNCW seemingly holding the edge. With 0:14 seconds to go at half court, Virginia called a time-out to set up the final shot, tied 67 a piece.
Everone in John Paul Jones knew who would get the ball. Everyone, that is, except for Sylven Landesberg.
"I definitely had the jitters inside of me when Coach told me the play was for me," he said. "I just had to get my confidence up. In my head I was thinking … I'm making the shot."
And that's exactly what he did. Mike Scott dished him the ball and from about 14 feet away, Landesberg, the current ACC Co-Player of the Week, sank the game-winning shot.
Landesberg, who is the only player in the ACC who has scored double digits in every game this season, put up 19 points. Jerome Meyinsse, Mike Scott, and Sammy Zeglinski each also contributed double digits, at 14, 12, and 10 respectively. This was Zeglinski's fifth consecutive game with double figures and 11th consecutive game making at least two 3-pointers. Jontel Evans picked up his second career start.
However, when Evan's "experience was starting to show down the stretch," Bennett began switching people around and making necessary substitutions.
"[Substitutions] gave us great lifts against Georgia Tech and Miami, different games where guys have come in and really sparked us. Tonight it wasn’t working and I perhaps put in too many guys at a time. You know I've said before, there’s not a ton of separation and I have to maybe just look at one or two at a time with a starter. That was disappointing and I know those guys were disappointed, but we will learn from it certainly."
There's no question that coach Bennett cannot be happy with tonight's performance.
"Our margin of error is -- I tell those guys if they don't believe me and if they're listening to people saying, 'Hey great job' -- it's not a lot. We walk a fine line and when we are sharp and focused, we will compete. When we get away from it, then we become below average."
Still, UNC Wilmington's head coach Benny Moss had nothing but good words to say about Bennett and Bennett's harking point -- the Virginia defense.
"As coaches by nature sometimes the best plays are stolen from someone else. You can do it on the defensive end too. We are going to watch film and break Virginia down and show our guys their attention to detail on box-outs. In the first half we had zero offensive rebounds and we are a pretty good offensive rebounding team – we didn’t get any. It was textbook box-outs by Virginia. We will break some of the game film down and use it as teaching points for our guys with what they did."
Virginia returns to action Saturday against Wake Forest at Winston-Salem. Tip-off is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. and it will be televised on Raycom.