Don’t listen to the stat sheet of Virginia’s game Saturday night at North Carolina State. It mostly will try to convince you that the Cavaliers did not, in fact, earn their fifth road win of the season and their fourth straight victory over the Wolfpack.
Just draw your attention to the bottom of the page — where the final tally reads Virginia 61, N.C. State 60 — and cling to that reassurance. Coach Tony Bennett and his players surely will.
Saturday night’s contest was far from a masterpiece on Virginia’s part. The Cavaliers were thoroughly pounded on the boards, lost their shooting stroke at halftime and had barely enough craftiness to contain N.C. State’s high degree of composite athleticism.
“When you’re on the road, you try to steal one,” Bennett said. “And that’s what we did.”
What led to the sudden up-tick? Well, at least in terms of his performance Saturday, Zeglinski said it may have had something to do with the type of balls they use at N.C. State. Seriously.
Zeglinski said the balls used in Saturday’s game were the Wilson brand. At home games, the Cavaliers use Nike brand balls. That led to an obvious question: Can Zeglinski convince the powers that be to start letting Virginia use Wilson brand balls at home?
“I’ve got to start talking to Coach,” Zeglinski said with a grin.
2) The post trap. N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie made 4 of 9 shots from the field and tallied 13 points in the first half, during which the Cavaliers largely defended him one-on-one with either sophomore guard Joe Harris or one of Virginia’s three available big men.
In the second half, Leslie made 1 of 2 shots from the field and scored four points, and that was the result of a critical adjustment made by the Cavaliers. After halftime, Virginia made a more concerted effort to trap Leslie in the post and bring in a guard from the perimeter to further pester him. Clearly, the extra defensive attention paid off.
3) Experience. The crowd at RBC Center on Saturday was about as frenetic as the pace at which N.C. State preferred to play. The Wolfpack fans were boisterous most of the night, and at times, the atmosphere did seem to rattle Virginia a bit. But when they most needed to be, the Cavaliers were poised. Mike Scott made four free throws in the closing minutes, and Virginia effectively stymied N.C. State on the Wolfpack’s final possession.
Out of an N.C. State timeout with 7.8 seconds left on the game clock, Wolfpack guard Lorenzo Brown came off a screen that gave him temporary separation from Virginia guard Jontel Evans. But sophomore forward Akil Mitchell immediately picked up Brown and forced him to move laterally until Evans could recover. Evans eventually forced Brown to attempt a contested three-point attempt at the buzzer, and the shot fell well short.
It was Virginia’s sixth game of the season that was decided by five points or fewer. The Cavaliers are 3-3 in those contests.
“To come out on the positive end on a lot of these games — we’ve been in a lot of close ones — maybe has helped us in this situation,” Bennett said.
1) Rebounding. Entering the night, Virginia had been outrebounded only five times this season and never by more than six boards. But on Saturday, the Cavaliers were outrebounded, 42-25. N.C. State forward Richard Howell — who fouled out with 1:47 to play — tallied a game-high 18 rebounds.
Virginia particularly struggled on the offensive glass, where N.C. State owned an 18-5 advantage. The Wolfpack outscored the Cavaliers, 17-7, in second chance points.
What was at the root of Virginia’s rebounding struggles. There were several theories put forth afterward. Scott said “it was effort mostly,” suggesting that the Cavaliers did not show enough on the boards.
Bennett said: “They’re probably so far the quickest, most athletic team on the glass, and I just didn’t think we — we talked about being ready. We talked about blocking out. Maybe the short turnaround. We usually crack it a little harder in work in between games, especially on defensive rebounding, and we didn’t do that. I don’t know if we were a little soggy or a little soft upstairs, because it’s a physical deal and you’ve got to react quick to it. . . . I told our guys we better get back to what we do, or it will be trouble.”
And then there was Mitchell, who offered this: “They were really physical. I mean, borderline dirty. I’ll go so far as to say that. They’ve got a really big, athletic team, and they just kind of beat us up on the boards.”
2) Foul trouble. Less than three minutes into the game, Mitchell injured the side of his right foot after coming down awkwardly on Harris’s foot while committing a foul. Mitchell left the game, but returned a few minutes later. He ended up playing 16 minutes, which was due in part to the injury and in part due to foul trouble. Both he and freshman forward Darion Atkins committed two fouls in the first half, and Bennett had to use them judiciously in the second half when their foul trouble continued. Mitchell finished with four fouls, while Atkins finished with three.
Given that the Cavaliers currently are operating with three healthy big men, they cannot afford for Mitchell and Atkins to get into foul trouble very often. They certainly can’t afford for them to do so against a lineup as tall as N.C. State’s. Virginia got away with one Saturday, and Bennett seemed to know it.
3) Turnovers. Virginia committed seven of its 11 turnovers in the second half. Evans and Zeglinski — the Cavaliers two primary ballhandlers — finished with four turnovers each. This point is going to have to be brief since I’m being kicked out of the media workroom here at the RBC Center, but let’s just say Bennett wasn’t pleased with the number of turnovers his players committed after the break. He emphasizes the value of each possession more than many coaches, and the Cavaliers wasted a lot of opportunities Saturday night.