In a game that was exciting, terrifying, and bizarre all in one, UVA picked up a huge road win at Cassell Coliseum when it stormed to a second-half lead and held on in the final seconds to beat the rival Hokies. The Cardiac Cavs were at it again, as they won a third ACC game this season on a last defensive stand, this time when Malcolm Brogdon, playing with an ankle injury, swatted at a pass to earn a steal and seal the win. The win puts #25 Virginia alone in 4th place in the ACC at 8-5 (21-6 overall), while Tech drops to 4-9.
UVA had built a 59-51 lead after a Sammy Zeglinski 3-pointer with three minutes to go when things got really exciting/terrifying/bizarre. In the next 90 seconds, he and Jontel Evans, both point guards, picked up their fourth and fifth fouls and exited the game, much to the shock of viewers watching at home who were unaware of any foul trouble at all. In fact, we witnessed the first and second times a Cavalier has fouled out all season within seconds. Brogdon, who had injured his ankle against Maryland and was resting after it flared up in the first half, was forced to re-enter the game (the only other option to handle the ball would have been walk-on Doug Browman). Joe Harris was playing with one hand. How would the Hoos hold on?
The answer, apparently, was by the skin of their teeth and Malcolm's finger nails. The only UVA points down the stretch were earned on a Paul Jesperson layup; the Hokies, on the other hand, climbed quickly back on a series of layups and phantom foul calls. On consecutive possessions, Virginia inexplicably inbounded the ball to Akil Mitchell, once on a cross-court pass from Malcolm Brogdon. Akil, a 53% free-throw shooter, missed the front-ends of two one-and-ones, giving Virginia Tech a final possession, during which Malcolm's game-winning steal sealed the win.
The strange endgame was exacerbated by clock trouble at the barn that is Cassell Coliseum. A combination of aging equipment and a Hokie trying to operate electronics led to multiple official reviews when the refs realized the clock's motion was completely uncorrelated to game action. While it is cute that the ACC tries to allow Virginia Tech to use nice stuff, the issues really disrupted the flow of the game.
Building an eight-point lead in the first place took an impressive comeback, as the Hoos trailed by nine in the first half and didn't retake the lead until a Jontel Evans layup with under eight minutes to play in the second. The Hokies built their lead on some poor three-point defense by UVA, combined with plenty of luck. Tech sunk 8 of their first 11 three-pointers to overcoming a potential weakness of the pack-line defense. However, this weakness is eliminated with hard close-outs on these attempts, and that's what we saw later in the second half. From the 13:02 mark to the 4:35 point, Tech was stuck at 49 points; in fact, they converted just one field-goal in those last 13 minutes.
The comeback was spearheaded by Mike Scott, Jontel Evans, and the re-emergent Sammy Zeglinski. Evans and Scott closed the first-half lead by combining for 11 points in the final four minutes. Scott finished with 20 points on 9-16 shooting, including a made three-pointer, as he continues to make his case as runaway ACC Player of the Year. Jontel was also key, making all four of his shots and drawing seven fouls in the process on his way to 13 points.
No points were more unlikely than his 30-foot three-point bank shot as the shot-clock expired. Sammy Zeglinski sent the ball Evans's way as the clock ticked to 0:01, and he threw the ball up as it ran out. Watching the replay, it appeared as if the clock had hit zero with the ball still in his hand; however, after a closer look, the clock appeared to be misaligned once again, as neither the buzzer nor the backboard lights indicated time was up. Announcer Jay Williams terrified Wahoo fans when he told viewers that the play could be reviewed later....but he was wrong on that one. (Don't worry, this one is in the books).
Sammy Zeglinski started off shaky, missing a poor early shot, fouling on a three-point attempt, and committing a bad turnover. However, he redeemed himself with a strong second-half performance, finishing with 13 points on 5-9 shooting, 3-7 from behind the arc, three assists, and two steals. I still would like him to take smarter shots, recognizing the game situation...but I'll take this Sammy any day.
The performances of freshmen Paul Jesperson and Darion Atkins can't be overlooked either. Jesperson had his best game yet, playing a career-high 28 minutes and scoring seven points, two of those the game-winners off an offensive rebound. He committed just one turnover, on miscommunication with Mike Scott, while his length continues to give opponents fits defensively. UVA's injury trouble means that he'll be increasingly important to the team. Atkins played just 11 minutes and didn't factor into the box score offensively. However, his rise as a defensive stopper has been noticeable, as he picked up two key blocks tonight and shut down the lane when he played.
Malcolm Brogdon's health becomes a major concern for the shorthanded team. He described the pain as "throbbing," and would not have reentered if it weren't for the fouled-out guards. Joe Harris's hand still limits him, most notably when he failed to come down with a late offensive rebound - the officials would award the Hokies with a timeout while the ball rolled loose on the floor. The call was especially ironic after the refs did not grant Harris a timeout when he called one as he fell out of bounds with possession. There is nothing more infuriating than an official who makes a mistake because of lack of familiarity with the rules, and this was one of those times.
Beating the Hokies is lots of fun. You get to witness Hokie-hater Mike Scott giving a piggy-back ride to a beaming Jontel Evans as they leave the court. You have the usual ceremonial game-stoppage to allow Hokie fans to toss bottles at the UVA bench. You see VT head coach Seth Greenberg writhing on the floor, banging on it and kicking the scorer's table in what is one of the more embarrassing traditions in college basketball. (Just imagine Tony Bennett acting like this, it's a hysterical thought.) The only thing missing was a classic Jeff Allen ejection - boy, do I miss him. Most importantly of all, however, UVA now has a firm grasp on the ACC's 4-seed and accompanying first-round bye, as Miami and NC State both fell earlier in the night. Both teams are now 7-6, effectively giving Virginia, who holds the tie-breaker, a two-game lead.
We all know what comes next. The Tar Heels visit Saturday, entering a sold-out John Paul Jones Arena that will be ready to absolutely explode. A win would all but lock up an NCAA Tournament bid and give students a much-deserved chance to rush the court (YES, we deserve it). The Hoos won a true dog-fight tonight, and the team will have some time to refocus before what promises to be another battle. There will be lots to discuss before that game, such as "Do we have any available players," and we'll try to answer those right here in the coming days.