When it comes to last second finishes, it seems like one of two things tend to happen for the Hoos. 1) Virginia wins on a last second defensive stand. 2) More commonly, Virginia fumbles the ball away on offense, and the opponent makes a buzzer-beater. But not today. Malcolm Brogdon drilled a deep three to break a tie with under a second to play, sending Virginia home with a huge 48-45 victory at Pitt on Super Bowl Sunday. Halfway through the ACC season, the Hoos sit at 8-1 in conference play, and have a two game lead over both Pitt and Duke, who fell to 6-3 this weekend.
UVA prevailed in a true, physical grind-it-out battle. Neither team ever led by more than 4 points, as the lead see-sawed back and forth. The game featured just 50 possessions, the slowest in the Tony Bennett era and one of the slowest in college basketball this season. Down the stretch, a Joe Harris free-throw tied the game at 45 with 3 minutes to play, but both teams failed repeatedly to break the tie. The Panthers had a shot when James Robinson's three-pointer with 18 seconds rimmed out, and Jamel Artis pulled down an offensive rebound. However, his layup attempt bounced out, setting up Virginia's final play with 18 seconds remaining.
In a designed play, Tony Bennett had Joe Harris come off a screen as a decoy, then had a screen set behind him for Brogdon. Though his shot was from a couple feet behind the arc, he had a good look and swished it home just before the buzzer. Malcolm's play has been a huge factor in the Wahoos' strong start to ACC play, and his three-point shooting has been the biggest area of his improvement. Brogdon made 32% of his 3s during his freshman season and 36% during the out-of-cofnerence this year; however, he is 14 for 29 (48%) during the ACC season.
Behind Malcolm's 16 points on 6-12 shooting, Akil Mitchell had one of his better games of the year. He finished with an efficient 10 points and 12 rebounds to notch just his second double-double of the season (he had 12 last year). Joe Harris had an off night, but played tough throughout to finish with 12 points on 4-12 shooting. Harris got into early foul trouble and played just 26 minutes, as Tony Bennett continues to be extra-cautious with players in foul trouble.
Playing on the road is tough, and the team's play was far from perfect. But the Wahoo defense made the game ugly and physical, then made a big shot when they needed it. Pitt took care of the ball and rebounded about as well as UVA (both teams rebounded 66.5% of opponent's misses), but shot just 32% from the field. Lamar Patterson, one of the best players in the nation (4th in Ken Pom's POY rankings), scored just 10 points on miserable 3-14 shooting, as the Hoos continued their ability to shut down opposing stars. Jabari Parker was 3-11 for 8 points, TJ Warren 1-9 for 4 points - the likely first-team all ACC squad would be hard-pressed to break 40 points against the Hoos.
It's tough to overstate the importance of this win for Virginia's season, and I don't think it's unreasonable to say that UVA is the front-runner for the ACC title. Yes, Syracuse has a pretty good claim to that title too - but, while currently undefeated, the Orange have a brutal second-half, as they play road games at Duke, Pitt, Florida State, and of course Virginia. There's a long way to go, but Wahoo fans have to be happy with the team's ability to beat good teams in hostile environments.
Here's Brogdon's game-winning shot, in case you feel like watching it on repeat instead of the Puppy Bowl: