The story of the evening was not that the Virginia Cavaliers are back atop the ACC with a 5-2 record over NC State, nor was it that Virginia used a 19-4 run over 10 minutes. No, the story of the night was Mustapha Farrakhan's electrifying one-hand jam on top of the Wolfpack's Javier Gonzalez. After a lethargic start, the Wahoos defended John Paul Jones Arena 59-47 to remind the ACC that the 'Hoos are in it this season. Video highlights after the jump.
While head coach Tony Bennett may say otherwise, the first half was not terrible defensively. What was terrible, however, was Virginia's 34.5% shooting. NC State shot 45.8%. Not ideal, but a team can win against a 46% shooting team. Many of those shots came from points in the paint, which Bennett found simply unacceptable.
"I really challenged them hard," Bennett understated. "I said, 'that's not who we are or who we have to be.'"
That's not exactly how the players remember it.
"When [Bennett] gets mad, you know he's actually mad, because he doesn't get that way often," said guard Sammy Zeglinski.
"You know it's scary when Coach is like that," sophomore Sylven Landesberg said. "He gets all red and veins start bulging. It's not fun."
On Landesberg, he failed to score in double figures for the first time this season, finishing with seven. He was the last man standing in the ACC who had scored in double figures for every game. However, in lowering his output into the bucket, Landesberg finished with a career-high nine assists, helping Jerome Meyinsse to 10 points, Farrakhan with 11, and Mike Scott with 15.
The Cavaliers recovered in the second round and finished the night shooting 40.7% (48% in the second half). NC State was held to 19 points in the second half and finished the night shooting only 37.5%.
The players have now shown that they're heeding to Bennett's admonition that "we can't get too high, we can't get too low." Coming off a blowout loss to Wake and a heart-wrenching loss at home to Virginia Tech, Virginia recovered nicely by simply dominating North Carolina start to finish. Coming off that high, the team was able to remain composed for the the Wolfpack last night.
"We got a big win against North Carolina," senior guard Calvin Baker said. "But we knew that North Carolina State is a good team. We knew we had to play as hard as we could to come out and get the victory. Now we have to put this game behind us and get ready for Wake Forest on Saturday."
"The kids have responded," Bennett said. "It is still very early, but the kids have responded and bounced back from a tough loss both times and have battled. It is a good place to be in, but by no means does that mean that we have arrived. I just want them to keep improving. I thought they won in a way today that they haven't before in the second half. It was with our defense and with some of our key guys not shooting well, so that is a good sign. We won with some foul trouble and cold shooting, but the defense clamped down, and we will take it."
Sophomore Farrakhan got the ball in the open floor off a missed NC State three. Six-foot-four soared over Gonzalez in a way that blew the roof off JPJA.
"Oh my God! It was nasty," said Landesberg."I saw Mu going and I thought he was just going to lay it because I saw Gonzalez coming and then I saw [Farrakhan] stutter his feet and I was like, 'Oh no!' He just took off."
Virginia (14-6, 5-2) has trailed at the half in five of the seven ACC games this season. The 'Hoos play host to Wake Forest this Saturday. A decision is expected to be made Friday morning regarding possible rescheduling due to inclement weather.
"I just want to thank all the people who voted us to be in last place," Landesberg said. "Thank you for giving us a lot of motivation. I still have that preseason poll posted up on my wall, and I look at it every day."