Virginia 61, Rutgers 57
Midway through the first half, the public address announcer announced Virginia junior Todd Billet as "coming back into the game for Rutgers," but the crowd knew better.
Roundly booed whenever he touched the ball, an impassioned 22-point performance from Billet led the Cavaliers to a 61-57 victory over the Scarlet Knights, his former team, at sold-out Louis Brown Athletic Center.
"I'm so tired right now I can't enjoy it," Billet said. "Maybe tomorrow. I'm just so glad we came out with a win. I'm going to be home for the next four days, so I would've heard it from everyone if we had lost."
Billet, who grew up in nearby Middletown and transferred from Rutgers following the 2000-01 season, played most of the second half in foul trouble as the Cavaliers (6-2) were unable to cling to a 33-24 halftime lead.
Rutgers (5-3) tied the game at 57 on a three-pointer by sophomore Ricky Shields (Parkdale High) with 20 seconds left. Billet then drove the left side and was fouled with 14 seconds left, sinking both free throws.
"I just said, 'I hope to God he makes it,' " Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said. "It was a little bit of a storybook ending for him, it's great for him to have that."
Shields (14 points) then missed a runner, almost drawing a blocking foul on Elton Brown. Cavaliers sophomore Jason Clark sealed the game with a pair of free throws with four seconds left.
The notorious Rutgers student section came equipped with anti-Billet T-shirts and banners, and he was jeered from the moment he led the pregame layup line onto the court. They went unacknowledged by Billet.
"That's their job," Billet said. "My job was to play the game."
Billet responded with 12 points in the first 11 minutes as the Cavaliers raced to a 13-point lead. Billet had a hand in every basket of an 8-0 run that gave the Cavaliers their initial lead, hitting a three-pointer, then setting up a Devin Smith three-pointer and tossing an alley-oop to Clark.
"He made some big plays," Rutgers Coach Gary Waters said.
Clark had 12 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. Point guard Keith Jenifer had 9 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, and his five turnovers were more than acceptable against the Scarlet Knights' pressure in Gillen's eyes.
"Keith played great," Gillen said. "He was like Davey Crockett at the Alamo. They were coming at him from all directions."
Billet picked up his fourth foul with 16 minutes 39 seconds remaining, but sat on the bench for just two minutes as the Cavaliers had no one else consistently able to score. The team's mainstay, senior forward Travis Watson, was unable to play due to a right ankle sprain suffered against Gardner-Webb on Thursday night. Still, the Cavaliers held a 52-36 rebounding edge, which countered their 24 turnovers.
Immediately after Billet's fourth foul, Rutgers guard Calvin Wooten hit a three-pointer that cut Virginia's lead to 38-35. The Cavaliers held the Scarlet Knights without a field goal for the next six minutes, but were unable to capitalize, missing 10 of 11 shots at one point.
The Cavaliers fell behind 48-44 with eight minutes left, after junior backup forward Sean Axani scored seven of his career-high 13 points in two minutes to rally the Scarlet Knights. The Cavaliers responded, with a Billet three-pointer and an Elton Brown layup, retaking the lead with 5:30 left.
The Billet three-pointer, launched with the shot clock winding down, bounced off the rim twice before falling.
"That was the biggest shot of the game," Waters said. "It killed us."