By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010; D08
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- When Mustapha Farrakhan prepares to dunk, he bites his lip. This is what his teammates tell him, and photos he's seen of his dunks confirm it.
In the second half of Virginia's 59-47 win over North Carolina State on Wednesday, Farrakhan's teammates knew what was coming seconds before the crowd.
The Virginia guard raced toward the basket from the right wing and appeared to have a clear path, except Wolfpack guard Javier Gonzalez ran at an angle that allowed him to reach the basket just before Farrakhan.
Farrakhan could pass the ball to the trailer. He could try a layup around Gonzalez. Or he could bite his lip.
"I just had it in my mind, like, I was going to make an aggressive play at the rim," Farrakhan said. "I knew I had the jumping ability to do it."
Farrakhan elevated, extended the ball with his right hand -- Farrakhan is left-handed -- and jammed the ball through the hoop despite Gonzalez standing in his way. Gonzalez was charged with the foul, although the whistle could barely be heard among the 10,092 at John Paul Jones Arena. Farrakhan flexed his arms and stared directly at Gonzalez, who appeared to butt heads with Farrakhan.
"Oh, my God!" guard Sylven Landesberg said. "I saw Mu going, and I thought he was going to lay it in because I saw Gonzalez coming. And then I saw him stutter his feet and I was like, 'Oh, no!' "
Of more importance to Coach Tony Bennett, the dunk and ensuing free throw helped give the Cavaliers a 10-point lead -- their largest of the game to that point -- that only needed to be nursed in the final minutes to ensure Virginia (14-6, 5-2 ACC) a pivotal victory.
"He really energized us," said Bennett, whose team is tied for the ACC lead with Duke through seven games.
Bennett wasn't overly excited about the record, continuing to recite that it's still early in the conference season. Although with wins such as Wednesday's, the Cavaliers legitimize their residence atop the standings.
"They won in a way today that they haven't in the second half," Bennett said. "It was more with our defense, with some of our key guys not shooting it well. That's a good sign. We won with some foul trouble and cold shooting, but the defense clamped down."
Virginia entered halftime trailing, 28-25, and the mild-mannered Bennett was irate with his team's defense. After shooting 45.8 percent from the field through the first half, N.C. State (14-9, 2-6) was held to 29.4 in the second half while scoring only 19 points.
Landesberg entered the game as the only ACC player to score double figures in every game this season, but he was held to only seven points on 2 of 10 shooting by the Wolfpack. With the defensive attention he drew, Landesberg became a distributor. He recorded a career-high nine assists and found open shots for his guards.
"Early I was trying to be aggressive on the offensive end and forced some bad shots," Landesberg said. "But then I was able to adjust the defense and use what they were doing against them."
The Cavaliers also withstood second-half foul trouble to each of their top three big men. It forced Bennett to become creative with the lineup, but the team's defense did not break.
The second-half advantage never felt comfortable until Farrakhan's dunk with 6 minutes 57 seconds remaining. Virginia's lead never dipped below double digits after the play, and the crowd never quieted.
Following the game, the Cavaliers' players appeared most excited about returning home to watch SportsCenter. Forward Mike Scott wanted to call ESPN to ensure the dunk is featured in the day's top 10 plays. Guard Sammy Zeglinski said it must make top three. Unprompted, Landesberg insisted on a higher distinction.
"It's definitely number one," Landesberg said. "It has to be number one!"