ATLANTA — No one associated with the Virginia men’s basketball team wanted to use fatigue as an excuse following an ACC tournament quarterfinals exit. But here are the facts: With seven scholarship players available the past three games, four of Virginia’s starters averaged more than 35 minutes per contest.
During that span, the Cavaliers’ two reserves combined to score two points.
Virginia allowed three opponents this season to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, and two of those occasions occurred in the past three games, including Friday’s 67-64 loss to North Carolina State.
Injuries and roster attrition have forced Virginia (22-9) to rely heavily on a seven-man rotation for much of the past three months. If nothing else, a cumulative effect of all those minutes may have helped prevent the fourth-seeded Cavaliers from reaching the ACC tournament semifinals for the first time since 1995.
Did they feel all that wear and tear even a little in the second half against fifth-seeded N.C. State?
“Yeah, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” said sophomore forward Akil Mitchell, who finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds. “You’ve just got to push through it at that point.”
That was the struggle for Virginia against a Wolfpack squad that wanted to push the pace as much as possible. N.C. State (22-11) utilizes a seven-man rotation, as well, but it does so by choice. N.C. State’s two reserves combined for nine points and four rebounds in 37 minutes.
Meantime, Virginia’s two reserves, both freshmen, combined to register no points and no rebounds in 13 minutes. Every Virginia starter logged at least 34 minutes Friday.
“Does fatigue come in?” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “When I look at our minutes, I guess theirs weren’t quite as heavy as ours, but I thought our guys didn’t look tired. I asked [fifth-year senior forward] Mike [Scott] that, and I think he was being honest that he felt okay, so I tried to use our timeouts.”
Scott finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds, but he made just 9 of 23 shots (39.1 percent). While Virginia claimed a 35-28 rebounding edge, N.C. State shot 54 percent from the field.
With 0.4 of a second left in the first half and Virginia ahead by one, fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski fouled N.C. State guard Scott Wood on a three-point attempt. The shot went in, and Wood made the ensuing free throw to put the Wolfpack up by three entering halftime.
With just more than six minutes remaining in the game and N.C. State up by six, Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie ripped an offensive rebound out of Mitchell’s hands and passed to Wood, who knocked down another three-pointer.
Virginia cut its deficit to two in the second half but did not come closer. With 12 seconds left and the Cavaliers down by three, sophomore guard Joe Harris took an open three-point attempt. The shot bounced off the front of the rim.
“This was a big game for both teams, and there was a lot of adrenaline pumping through us,” said Harris, who finished with 18 points. “There might have been stretches where guys were tired, but down the stretch, I feel like everybody was zoned in and fatigue really wasn’t an issue.”
Now Virginia must bide its time until Sunday, when the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field is announced. The Cavaliers once were thought to be a lock, but suddenly their entry seems less certain.
“Everybody’s telling us we’re in,” Mitchell said. “I think Coach Bennett is really confident that we’re in. I don’t really know what to make of it because it literally changes every second. . . . I think I’m confident that we’re in, but I’m not too sure either way.”