As Virginia sophomore forward Akil Mitchell answered questions from the media following Virginia’s 75-72 overtime win Sunday at Maryland, Ethan Saliba, the team’s athletic trainer, taped an ice pack to Mitchell’s left hand. Mitchell had sprained his pinkie and ring fingers a few weeks ago and aggravated the injury before Sunday’s game.
He knows the last thing the Cavaliers need to deal with is another injury, and he said the finger sprains would not keep him off the court. But he looked at Saliba as the trainer walked away to head toward his next patient and sighed.
“I feel for him,” Mitchell said of Saliba. “He’s been running back and forth all week.”
The current state of Virginia’s collective health is tenuous at best. Freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon missed his second straight game with a left foot injury. He did not even make the trip the College Park. Sophomore guard Joe Harris did not practice the past two days due to concussion symptoms that resulted from a second-half collision in Thursday’s 63-60 loss to Florida State. Senior center Assane Sene was at Sunday’s game and was not wearing a walking boot on his injured right ankle, but his return remains suspect.
Virginia finished Sunday’s game with four available scholarship players after Mitchell, Harris and freshman forward Darion Atkins fouled out. To say the Cavaliers were short-handed would be a considerable understatement.
But with the win, Virginia secured the No. 4 seed – and more important, a first-round bye – in this week’s ACC tournament in Atlanta. The Cavaliers will not play again until Friday, and that extra rest can only help their chances for success.
1) Mike Scott. The fifth-year senior forward finished Sunday’s game with a career-high 35 points and 11 rebounds. He made 11 of 20 shots from the field and 13 of 18 shots from the free throw line. No other ACC player has scored more points in a single game this season. Per usual, Scott drew double- and triple-teams from Maryland’s defense, but he told his teammates before the start of the overtime period to ignore such obstacles and get him the ball anyway. He scored seven of Virginia’s 14 points in the extra period. Especially given the team’s loss Thursday against Florida State on his senior night, Scott said he was fine with ruining Maryland’s senior day Sunday.
2) Sammy Zeglinski. The fifth-year senior guard tallied 20 points and six rebounds Sunday. He shot 6 of 14 from the field and 4 of 9 from three-point range. Comcast Center has treated Zeglinski well the past few seasons. During Virginia’s 74-60 win at Maryland last year, Zeglinski made 6 of 7 three-pointers and finished with 25 points. So in his last two trips to College Park, Zeglinski made 10 of 16 three-pointers (62.5 percent). More important for this year’s Virginia squad, Zeglinski now has made 14 of 37 three-point attempts (37.8 percent) the past five games. That’s not an outstanding clip, but it’s certainly an upward trend from where he was a month ago.
“It makes us a lot better” when Zeglinski is shooting well, junior guard Jontel Evans said. “It takes pressure off of Mike. It takes pressure off of Joe. Including myself, when he’s getting to the basket and driving and hitting those threes, it’s a big help.”
3) Jontel Evans. The junior guard tallied six assists and four steals to accompany his six points Sunday. He turned the ball over just twice. Evans’s most notable play came with 19.9 seconds left in overtime. Virginia was clinging to a two-point lead, and Evans had the ball at the top of the key. He came off a screen and noticed that Maryland big man Alex Len hedged briefly before retreating to defend Scott. He also noticed that his defender was late recovering from Scott’s screen, so he darted straight to the basket and scored an uncontested lay-up to push Virginia’s lead to four.
“My eyes just got big, and the Red Sea parted, and I sealed the deal with an easy two points,” Evans said.
1) Injuries. We knew about Sene’s ankle. We knew about Brogdon’s foot. We knew about Harris’s broken left (non-shooting) hand. What we did not know before Sunday’s game was that Harris had suffered a concussion during the second half of Thursday’s loss to Florida State. Remember when Harris collided with Seminoles forward Bernard James? And how, once both players were on the ground, James kicked at Harris’s stomach?
Well, it turns out that collision was the worst part of that encounter for Harris after all. Bennett said Harris’s head ran into James’s elbow incidentally and that Harris suffered a mild concussion as a result. Harris sat out of practice Friday and Saturday, but was cleared to play Sunday. He made 2 of 7 shots from the field and finished with seven points, six rebounds and two assists in 37 minutes. He fouled out with 5.3 seconds to play in overtime. Harris was not made available for interview after the game.
Bennett did not provide any substantive update on the statuses of either Brogdon or Sene.
2) Handling the full-court press. Out of a timeout with just more than eight minutes to play, Maryland initiated a full-court press for which the Cavaliers were unprepared and, at least initially, unable to handle. A few quick turnovers generated by the press helped the Terrapins claw back into contention. Interestingly enough, Virginia began to handle the pressure better once the Cavaliers started in-bounding the ball to Scott.
“We handled it well enough,” Bennett said. “They kind of sprung it on us. There was a lot of action going on, but you’ve got to be able to get it inbounds and get it in the right guy’s hands. When we needed to at the end, I thought we did.”
3) Overtime. An extra period – even if it was just five more minutes – was the last thing this team needed. Scott, Zeglinski and Evans played the entire second half and overtime sessions. All three players logged 42 or more minutes. And to think, the overtime session could have been avoided.
“I thought we had it in regulation a couple of times,” Bennett said.
It didn’t help that Virginia missed 8 of 22 free throws in the second half. But even so, the Cavaliers drew up a play on their final possession they thought had a chance to be a game-winner. Harris inbounded the ball with an alley-hoop pass intended for freshman forward Darion Atkins. But the pass was short, and Atkins had to catch it in the air underneath the basket. Rather than bring the ball down, Atkins tried a reverse layup while still in the air that fell errant. Maryland grabbed the defensive rebound with 4.4 seconds left on the game clock.
“That would have been sweet,” Bennett said. “We were like, ‘We had it right there, and then we let it go.’”
Because his team ended up victorious, Bennett was willing to joke about Harris’s poor inbound pass, particularly when matched with Harris’s foul on Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin’s three-point attempt with 5.3 seconds left in overtime and Virginia up by six. It was Harris’s fifth foul, which meant he had to leave the game.
“We’ll blame the throw on his broken hand and the dumb foul at the end on his concussion,” Bennett said with a smile.