CHARLOTTESVILLE, FEB. 27 -- Of all the Virginia Cavaliers' moral victories in this rapidly deteriorating season, today's was the most impressive -- and the most painful. Virginia's furious second-half rally literally came up inches short as Mel Kennedy and John Crotty missed last-second shots and 18th-ranked N.C. State held on for a 64-63 victory before 7,600 in University Hall.
The Cavaliers have lost seven consecutive games, their most since an eight-game losing streak in the 1964-65 season. The loss drops Virginia to 12-16 (4-8 in the ACC).
"We're just drained," said Kennedy, who led Virginia with 22 points in his final home game. "I'm proud of the guys for coming back, but it just starts getting old. It's always tough to keep wishing it was last year."
Virginia had every reason to give up at halftime. The undermanned, undersized Cavaliers were down 13 points at the intermission, 15 early in the second half. N.C. State (20-6, 8-4) had run a dunkfest in the first half, with four slams and four more uncontested layups in transition.
When they had to set up, the Wolfpack simply dumped the ball inside to Charles Shackleford (14 of his 18 points and seven of his 10 rebounds) or Chucky Brown (12 of his 13 points), who combined to hit 13 of 17 first-half shots. "We had everything working there for a while," freshman point guard Chris Corchiani said. "It was almost too easy."
An imposing 19-4 run midway through the half allowed N.C. State to open a 34-21 cushion. Virginia could get just two baskets in 5:21 while the Wolfpack was getting four consecutive dunks and two more layups. "The last 10 minutes of the first half, State played about as well as I've seen a college team play," Virginia Coach Terry Holland said.
But after Vinny Del Negro's steal and layup gave the Wolfpack a 47-32 lead 34 seconds into the second half, the Cavaliers rallied with a vengeance. Virginia ripped off 12 consecutive points, four each from Kennedy and Darrick Simms (12 points), to pull within three. The Cavaliers continued scratching and clawing, taking the lead, 56-54, on Bill Batts' layup with 7:06 left.
"We've told our team that this year the basketball gods have decided that every one of our games is going down to the last shot," N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano said. "I told our team at halftime, 'Down 13? They're coming back.' " But the Wolfpack regrouped and got a couple of clutch shots from freshman guard Rodney Monroe, who finished with 18 points, down the stretch.
After Crotty's three-pointer with 3:59 to go put Virginia ahead, 63-60, Monroe scored four consecutive points to give the lead back to N.C. State. He followed Del Negro's missed layup to close the gap to 63-62, then hit an eight-footer in transition for the winning points with 1:21 to go. "I wasn't trying to be the hero or anything," Monroe said, "but I'm never bashful about shooting."
The Cavaliers had three chances to win. Simms' driving eight-foot bank over Monroe bounced off the rim, then, after Del Negro missed a 14-footer, Kennedy took Brown one-on-one on the Cavaliers' favorite "Thumbs Down" play but missed an off-balance runner from six feet. "I thought Chucky was going to hit me on the shot because he was bumping me the whole way, but then he backed off when I went up and I banked it too hard," Kennedy said.
The rebound bounced off several hands and came to Crotty in the middle of the lane about 12 feet out. He quickly put it up -- "No form, just a toss," he said -- over Shackleford's outstretched hand, but it hit the front of the rim as time expired.