Virginia vs. Virginia Tech: Cavaliers deal second blow to Hokies' NCAA tournament hopes

Virginia's Assane Sene registers an emphatic score in front of Virginia Tech's Terrell Bell.
Virginia's Assane Sene registers an emphatic score in front of Virginia Tech's Terrell Bell. (Andrew Shurtleff)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2011

CHARLOTTESVILLE - Virginia Tech entered Saturday's game against Virginia knowing that a win over the Cavaliers would do little to bolster its NCAA tournament hopes. A loss, however, would put the Hokies' resume dangerously close to the discard pile.

Such is the case now for Virginia Tech after its 61-54 loss to the Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena. The defeat, the Hokies' second of the season against Virginia, might be all the evidence the NCAA tournament selectors need to deny Virginia Tech entry to their event for the fourth straight season.

As he waited for the end of Virginia Coach Tony Bennett's postgame news conference to end, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg leaned against a wall in an adjacent walkway with his arms folded and his scowling face staring at the concrete floor beneath him.

"I don't know if it's the stage we're on right now, the stage of the season," Greenberg said a few minutes later. "Let's face it, they live in a little bit of a test tube, and we can't overreact to a good win and we can't overreact to a loss."

Virginia (13-13, 4-8 ACC) entered the day among the lowest-scoring squads in Division I. The Cavaliers had not reached the 50-point mark in any of their previous three home games. Their roster had been decimated by injury, and their confidence had been deflated by losses in eight of their previous 10 contests.

Rather than set specific goals in his pregame address, Bennett implored his players to understand that Virginia Tech's offense - the ACC's most prolific in league play - would crush them if allowed to operate at full throttle. Focus on keeping the game's pace at a manageable rate, Bennett told them, and they would remain in contention.

Virginia held the Hokies - who had averaged 96.5 points in their previous two contests - to 54 points, which tied their season-low point total. The Cavaliers also held Virginia Tech (17-8, 7-5) to 54 points during a 57-54 win Dec. 5 in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney finished with a game-high 22 points Saturday, but the Hokies shot 37.5 percent in the second half. Saturday's effort marked the fourth time this season the Cavaliers have held an ACC opponent to 56 points or less.

"We did enough good things, and I thought defensively the way they played made me think they understood the significance of this game," Bennett said. "When I saw our two freshman rebounding like that down the stretch and guys getting on the floor and just bending at times, but not breaking, I was pleased with that."

The two freshmen Bennett referred to were guard Joe Harris and forward Akil Mitchell, who combined to grab 14 rebounds. The Cavaliers, despite a front-court size disadvantage, outrebounded Virginia Tech, 32-30.

Virginia's prowess on the boards proved most crucial in the latter part of the second half, when Virginia Tech cut a 15-point deficit to three.

"Tonight every ball just came off [the rim], and it just seemed like it was in a place for me to go get it," Mitchell said.

Offensively, the Cavaliers were a little tentative in the closing minutes, but a resilient performance by senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan and some clutch three-pointers from junior guard Sammy Zeglinski proved sufficient to seal the victory.

Farrakhan - the team's leading scorer - attempted a tip-in dunk with 14 minutes 20 seconds remaining in the game, but he misjudged his leap and fell hard on his chest. He hurt his left wrist and got the wind knocked out of him but later returned. Farrakhan scored 10 of his team-high 16 points after reentry.

Afterward, an arena security guard serenaded Bennett with a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" as the coach retreated to the locker room following his news conference. His players were in an equally positive mood. Sophomore guard Jontel Evans said it felt "real good" to snap his team's three-game losing streak, and to do so against the Cavaliers' in-state rival was all the better.

And what about damaging Virginia Tech's NCAA tournament hopes?

"Yeah," Evans said, "that's always good, too."

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