N.C. State 75, Virginia 63
Many of the faces have changed, but the result hasn't. When Atlantic Coast Conference play begins, the University of Virginia can't seem to win away from University Hall.
So it went today in a 75-63 loss to North Carolina State in the conference opener for both teams. The Cavaliers (9-3) struggled to find a rhythm offensively, losing sight of forward Travis Watson, who took just eight shots -- and no free throws -- in 37 minutes against the Wolfpack's ball-hawking, man-to-man, trapping defense.
Thus Virginia's six-game winning streak is history. The Cavaliers' last conference win on the road dates back nearly a year -- Jan. 12, 2002, a 71-67 victory 30 miles down the road in Chapel Hill against North Carolina.
Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said a possible byproduct of playing on the road -- a lopsided number of trips to the foul line in favor of the home team -- was a factor.
"The first thing I did was look at the stats," said Gillen. "Travis Watson didn't take any free throw shots, and that was very disappointing. We shoot 12 free throws and they shoot 27 -- and we're playing zone. We got the ball inside, but we just could not get a free throw."
Three days after recording 21 points and 20 rebounds against Wofford to become the first Cavalier to record 20-plus in both categories since Ralph Sampson in 1983, Watson finished with just 10 points. He scored six of those in a five-minute stretch late in the second half.
That burst of inside play, parlayed with six of center Elton Brown's nine points, helped Virginia trim a 14-point deficit to 53-47 with 6 minutes 7 seconds remaining. But just when the Cavaliers were getting it right on the offensive end, they were doomed by two defensive lapses.
First, Brown was late getting to Wolfpack forward Levi Watkins on an out-of-bounds play, leading to an open three-pointer. Then, following a missed jumper by Keith Jenifer, N.C. State's Julius Hodge (team-high 21 points) was left uncontested and hit a 10-footer in the lane.
Two open looks produced five Wolfpack points and a 58-47 lead with less than five minutes remaining. Virginia got no closer than eight the rest of the way.
"Give N.C. State credit . . . they played physical and aggressively," said Gillen, who then criticized the officiating crew of Mike Wood, Ted Valentine and Gary Maxwell. "I'm disappointed that a player like [Watson] doesn't get any respect. I've said it before; obviously, I'm talking to a wall."
Watson, meantime, wasn't talking following the game, but Brown was.
"They didn't do anything that we didn't expect," he said of the Wolfpack (8-2). "When we did have chances inside, we didn't convert them. This one's on us, not them."
Virginia's inefficiencies spread to the perimeter. The Cavaliers made just 4 of 22 three-point attempts, including a 1-for-6 effort from marksman Todd Billet. Only Devin Smith, who came off the bench to score a team-high 14 points, seemed to find his game offensively.
"They were helping on the weak side and bringing a second guy over to double as soon as we caught the ball inside," Billet said. "They really play just three guards and two forwards, so their quickness is their thing. They kept their feet moving and seemed to beat us to spots."
The Cavaliers have nearly a week to fix what went wrong, as they don't play again until Saturday at noon against North Carolina at University Hall. The road issues will need to be fixed quickly, however, as visits to Duke and Clemson follow the next week.