CHARLOTESVILLE, Va., Feb. 24 -- Virginia Coach Dave Leitao took his seat Saturday night looking and sounding like a man who had just witnessed the unthinkable. He shook his head and let out a deep breath, making a poor effort to masquerade any of his lingering shock.
He had just watched Georgia Tech thrash the life out of the No. 24 Cavaliers for the better part of 37 minutes. He had seen the Yellow Jackets take a seven-point lead and defend it the way a bully defends playground territory -- with brute force. And while the Yellow Jackets showed their swagger, the Cavaliers took on the persona of a beaten foe, unable to muster a response.
"They were manhandling us," Cavaliers guard J.R. Reynolds said.
But in the final 3 minutes 41 seconds, the Cavaliers provided the sight that left Leitao and the 14,564 at John Paul Jones Arena in a state of euphoria, if not total disbelief. Doing all the things they apparently couldn't do for the vast majority of the game, the Cavaliers erased a seven-point deficit to take a 75-69 victory.
"As I just told the team and the assistant coaches," the coach said, "for the life of me, I'm not sure what just happened."
After Yellow Jackets guard Javaris Crittenton hit a pair of free throws at the 3:41 mark to give his team a seven-point cushion -- its largest of the game -- the Cavaliers (19-8, 10-4 ACC) didn't allow Georgia Tech to score again. And from there, after being thrashed in the lane and getting virtually no production outside of Reynolds and fellow guard Sean Singletary, the Cavaliers closed by scoring the final 13 points of the game.
"That might be one of our best comebacks of the year," said Singletary, who scored 24 points.
As has been their custom this season, Singletary and Reynolds started the momentum swing that rescued the Cavaliers. Singletary made a pair of free throws before Reynolds made an acrobatic drive to the basket, scoring a layup and hitting a free throw to finish a three-point play that cut the Yellow Jackets' lead to 69-67.
From there, the Cavaliers got the production they had been missing most of the game. Forward Jason Cain, who scored all seven of his points in the last 6:36, grabbed a miss by Singletary and turned it into the layup that tied the score at 69 with 2:23 left. Nearly two minutes later, forward Tunji Soroye put the Cavaliers up to stay, putting back another miss by Singletary with 32 seconds left.
"Somebody's out there working for us," Cain said. "Somebody's out there working some magic."
And with that, the Cavaliers scored a victory that likely put them onto the fast track to the NCAA tournament. No ACC team that has won 10 games has been left out of the tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams. Meantime, the loss might have derailed the hopes of Georgia Tech (18-10, 6-8).
"Give them credit: They looked pretty much dead in the water with about three minutes to go," Yellow Jackets Coach Paul Hewitt said. "They summoned a lot of courage and came back and got the win."
With less than four minutes left, the Yellow Jackets had outrebounded Virginia, 32-20, and the battered Cavaliers showed no outward signs of changing that trend.
"I thought we were listless with our energy and we weren't as vocal as we needed to be during different parts of the game," Leitao said.
Said Yellow Jackets guard Mario West: "We definitely felt like this was a game we had."
But Virginia outrebounded Georgia Tech, 7-2, in the final minutes, including two offensive rebounds that led to crucial baskets.
"We just knew we had to stick together," Reynolds said. "We've been in these position plenty of times. It was just a matter of staying together and getting defensive stops."