CHARLOTTESVILLE —No. 24 Virginia spent the early part of the second half Thursday night against No. 22 Florida State erasing an 11-point deficit. The Cavaliers spent the middle portion building an 11-point lead of their own.
But Virginia turned over the ball five times in the final five minutes, enabling a Florida State comeback capped by reserve guard Ian Miller’s game-winning three-pointer with 0.8 of a second left on the clock. And so the Cavaliers fell on senior night, 63-60, wasting a chance to secure their postseason positioning.
“We just gave that one away,” said forward Mike Scott, a fifth-year senior who finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds in his final regular season home contest. “That was our last chance to play one of the top teams in the ACC. We lost to Duke, UNC swept us and Florida State already had a win against us. That was our last chance to beat one of the best teams, and we had it. But we gave it away.”
The missed opportunity marked perhaps Virginia’s most glaring turnover of the night. The Cavaliers (21-8, 8-7 ACC) committed 10 turnovers in the first 35 minutes, a vast improvement from their 20-turnover performance a month ago in a three-point loss at Florida State (20-9, 11-4).
But the Cavaliers failed to take care of the ball in the final five minutes Thursday. Virginia — which was operating with seven scholarship players, as freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon sat out with a left foot injury — could not afford such sloppiness.
“We played great defense down the stretch,” junior guard Jontel Evans said. “They just hit tough shot after tough shot after tough shot, and we were careless with the ball, which cost us.”
Virginia scored 27 points off Florida State’s 18 turnovers. The Seminoles’ Miller made 4 of 6 three-pointers in the second half and 5 of 8 on the night, but nearly all were tightly contested shots. Miller finished with 18 points.
When Florida State forward Bernard James was ejected after kicking sophomore guard Joe Harris in the stomach while both players were on the ground with just less than five minutes to play, Virginia led by seven. That lead grew by two after Scott made both ensuing flagrant-foul free throws.
Virginia’s comeback had worked its fans into a frenzy, and James’s action only fueled their fury. They escorted him off the court with a raucous ovation. But by then, Evans said, the Cavaliers had begun to feel rushed, and their ball security deteriorated as a result.
An offensive foul by Harris — his fifth turnover of the night — was particularly detrimental. Virginia led by six with just more than three minutes to play and was trying to inbound the ball following a Florida State score.
“I guess I gave him a little bit more of a push-off than I thought I did to get open, and then he sold it and got the call,” Harris said.
“I thought they were trying to foul us or grab us,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “I hope it was a good call, because it was certainly a pivotal play in that game.”
Virginia’s senior night breakdown reached its apex with the score tied and 35.9 seconds remaining. Fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski drove into the lane and tried a pass to sophomore forward Akil Mitchell. The ball bounced off Mitchell’s hands and out of bounds.
Miller scored the game-winner on Florida State’s ensuing possession with Zeglinski’s hand in his face.