Headed on the road in the ACC for the first time, the Hoos continued their roller coaster ride of a season. They've looked like world-beaters while winning at Wisconsin and taking down UNC at John Paul Jones Arena. And they've played painfully poorly in losses at home to Delaware and in Richmond to 2-13 Old Dominion. Against the Demon Deacons, UVA followed up an impressive and well-played victory with a sloppy defeat, sleep-walking through much of the game and making a run too late, falling by a final score of 55-52 to drop to 1-1 in the ACC.
The Hoos were beat on both sides of the ball by a Wake Forest team that not only is expected to finish in the ACC basement, but played like it too. However, Virginia showed worse, demonstrating a surprising lack of intensity and poor decision-making that were pervasive throughout the roster. "It isn't easy to win on the road" is one of college basketball's oldest adages, and it's especially true with young squads like UVA's. However, it was the team's experienced players that let the team down tonight.
An uncharacteristic 17 turnovers were indicative of UVA's effort, as 28% of possessions ended with an (often unforced) mistake rather than a shot at the rim. Despite playing 73 (37%) of the game's minutes, first-years were accountable for just 3. Joe Harris lost the ball 4 times, with Jontel Evans adding 4 more and Akil Mitchell 3. When the Hoos held on to the ball, an offense that made 8 of 14 three-pointers against UNC often stagnated. The Hoos shot just 3 of 11 from behind the arc against Wake, with all three makes occurring in a frantic final minute.
And while Wake Forest posed a difficult matchup for the Packline defense, spreading the floor and using a variety of screens and cuts to utilize the open space created, their success was mainly because of UVA's lack of execution. Poor decision making or even just bad on-ball defense led to open shots and drives to the rim. Akil Mitchell was burned especially badly and proved unable to rope in Travis McKie when matched up with him.
For the first 35 minutes of the game, a sole bright spot was Mike Tobey, who scored 14 points, ten in the first half, on 6 of 9 shooting. Tobey showed off his developed low-post game, using his left hand with ease. While Mike has to remember that making a few early buckets doesn't give him license to shoot air balls with his heels on the three-point line, he demonstrated the potential that fans see in him down the road. Justin Anderson's successful and loud put-back dunk will be on Virginia's highlight reel as well; Anderson brought some well-needed energy to the game and grabbed 8 rebounds.
Virginia did turn it on enough to make a late run, mainly defensively. The Hoos didn't allow a field goal in the final 10 minutes of the game, as the gravity of the situation did compel a spark. Slowly, the lead went from 14 down to 7, down to 5, and with 54 seconds to play, UVA trailed just 50-46 after rebounding a Wake Forest missed free-throw. The ensuing possession symbolized the game in a microcosm.
Evans passed to Harris who, attempting to draw a foul, badly missed a three-pointer. Jontel rebounded the ball, then got the benefit of the doubt on an out-of-bounds call, avoiding his fifth turnover. Evan Nolte, who finished the game shooting 1 for 7, air balled a three-pointer; Akil Mitchell rebounded and drew a foul, but missed the front end of his one-and-one.
After Joe Harris replaced the lookalike impersonating him, making two three-pointers in 11 seconds, UVA had a final chance to tie the game with 5 seconds to play. And Tony Bennett drew up the perfect play for it, as Evans caught the ball running toward the basket, and attempted a short pass to Mike Tobey. But once again, the execution was poor, and the ball bounced harmlessly away.
Going forward, the team's nucleus of seniors must return to form. Jontel Evans didn't appear to be playing within the flow of the offense, trying to force the action too often and turning in a sloppy performance. His defensive prowess ensures that Evans is a better option than Teven Jones, but he cannot try to take a larger role in the offense than is needed. Joe Harris failed to be Joe Harris, besides an 11 second second-half stretch. And Akil Mitchell looked unfocused, making poor defensive decisions and attempting ill-advised shots.
The roller-coaster ride continues Saturday at noon against Clemson, again on the road. The Hoos must find some consistency, and they have to do so now. For a team that aspires to play in the postseason, UVA is adding a startling amount of losses that will be viewed by the Selection Committee unfavorably. There are only so many times a bad loss could be treated as a "wake-up call." At some point, the team has to not just wake up, but stay up and focused before each and every game. At 1-1, sixteen more ACC games remain, and Virginia will continue to learn that full effort is needed in each of them.