Reporters had stopped making Virginia fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski relive what turned out to be a painful senior night long before he departed the post-game interview room at John Paul Jones Arena. For a few minutes, he sat alone and glared at a stat sheet from the Cavaliers’ 63-60 loss Thursday night to Florida State.
Then Zeglinski dropped the piece of paper on the floor, rose and headed for the door. On his way out, he was asked one final question: What did you see?
“Just turnovers,” Zeglinski said.
The second half of Thursday’s game did not lack for excitement. Virginia erased an 11-point deficit and then built an 11-point lead. The game and shot clocks malfunctioned on two occasions. Florida State forward Bernard James kicked sophomore guard Joe Harris in the stomach. Mike Scott scored 17 of his 28 points.
But those turnovers Zeglinski referred to did the Cavaliers in. There were 15 charged to Virginia on the night and five in the final five minutes. Zeglinski and Harris combined for nine of those ball-handling miscues.
And so the Cavaliers fell to 21-8 on the season and 8-7 in ACC play. With Clemson’s win over Virginia Tech on Thursday, there now is a four-way tie between Virginia, Clemson, Miami and North Carolina State for fourth place in the ACC standings. Should those four teams finish with the same record in conference play, Virginia would win the tiebreaker and secure a first-round bye in the ACC tournament.
The Cavaliers close out their regular season slate Sunday at Maryland.
1) Mike Scott. The end result of Thursday night’s game might not have been what Scott or any other Virginia follower wanted, but his individual performance served as quite a send-off to his fans at John Paul Jones Arena. Scott finished with 28 points on 9 of 15 shooting and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes. It was his 32nd career double-double. His point total was a career-high in ACC play. He carried the Cavaliers in the first half by scoring 11 points when no other Virginia player tallied more than four. Then he shouldered a heavy load in the second half by posting 18 more points.
But the Cavaliers struggled to get Scott ample touches in the game’s closing minutes, and that proved costly. Scott said Florida State made a more concerted effort to double-team him and deny him entry passes as the game progressed.
“I know he wanted the ball in his hands, but we just couldn’t get it to him the way he likes it,” junior guard Jontel Evans said.
2) Jontel Evans. The junior guard scored in double figures for the sixth time in seven games Thursday. He finished with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, four assists and one turnover. His perimeter defense helped limit Florida State’s starting guards (Luke Loucks, Deividas Dulkys and Michael Snaer) to a combined 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting.
3) Defense. That Virginia blew an 11-point lead with 4 minutes, 33 seconds remaining was more a reflection of its offensive sloppiness than its defensive slip-ups. Florida State made several well-contested shots, including the game-winning three-pointer by reserve guard Ian Miller. Fifth-year guard Zeglinski had a hand right in Miller’s face as he made that shot attempt.
The Cavaliers would not have been able to climb out of an 11-point second half hole without their pestering defense. Virginia scored 27 points off of 18 Virginia Tech turnovers. Zeglinski tallied three of the Cavaliers’ eight steals to lead the charge.
1) Injuries. Freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon did not play Thursday night due to a left foot injury. He sat on Virginia’s bench in street clothes and sported a walking boot on his injured foot. That left the Cavaliers with seven available scholarship players. Coach Tony Bennett said afterward that he would address the status of Brogdon and senior center Assane Sene (ankle) “at the right time.”
Thursday night was not that time.
Four Virginia players logged 35 or more minutes against Florida State, and another player logged 29. Meantime, Florida State had eight players log more than 10 minutes, and only one of them played more than 29 minutes.
Not every team’s rotation reaches as deep as Florida State’s, but just keep in mind that fatigue likely will be more of an issue for Virginia than for its opponent in each of the Cavaliers’ remaining games.
2) Late turnovers. The Cavaliers tallied 10 turnovers in the first 35 minutes Thursday. That’s pretty good and significantly improved from the last time they played Florida State. During Virginia’s 58-55 loss Feb. 4 in Tallahassee, the Cavaliers turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and 20 times on the day.
But in the final five minutes Thursday, Virginia recorded five turnovers. One was an offensive foul called on sophomore guard Joe Harris as the Cavaliers were trying to inbound the ball. Harris and Bennett both said that when they first heard the whistle blow, they figured the foul would be assessed to Florida State. It was not.
On Virginia’s penultimate possession, Zeglinski drove into the lane and looked to pass the ball to sophomore forward Akil Mitchell. But the ball bounced off Mitchell’s hands and out of bounds with 35.9 seconds left and the scored tied, 60-60.
Miller made the game-winning three-pointer with 0.8 seconds left on the game clock. Zeglinski’s half-court heave at the buzzer missed.
3) First half offense. We acknowledge that Virginia’s roster size is limited, and we acknowledge that one of its active players is competing with a broken hand. But the Cavaliers simply cannot expect Scott to carry nearly the entire load offensively, as he had to do in the first half Thursday. He scored 11 points before the break. No other Virginia player scored more than four points. Harris and Zeglinski combined to score one point and did not make a single shot from the field (0 for 7) in the first half.
Virginia is not in an ideal position as it enters the final game of the regular season, not to mention the ACC tournament and beyond. But the Cavaliers can play stingy enough defense to stay in games — even if relying primarily on five or six players — against just about any opponent they face.
Provided, that is, that guys like Harris and Zeglinski can do more to ease the offensive burden placed on Scott. Harris finished with nine points, while Zeglinski tallied eight. That’s not bad. But their offensive production will have to be more consistent the rest of the way.