TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Virginia’s ACC-best defense was uncharacteristically leaky. Its offense, at times, was downright ugly. But with 12.8 seconds remaining Thursday night, the Cavaliers somehow found themselves in the exact position they hoped for on the road, up one with a chance to escape with their first win in the state of Florida in 12 years.
After Florida State blew an 11-point lead over the final 61 / 2 minutes, Snaer broke free around a screen and hit a runner in the lane while being fouled by Virginia’s Joe Harris with 4.4 seconds remaining. The three-point play was Snaer’s sixth game winner over the past two seasons.
The loss was Virginia’s 17th straight in the state of Florida.
The sudden turn of events left Virginia (20-10, 10-7 ACC) reeling, and Harris admitted after the game that the pressure of the NCAA tournament bubble has started to weigh on his teammates.
“It’s almost like we’re playing not to lose in some situations,” he said.
That appeared to be the case for much of Thursday’s contest. The Cavaliers again came out sluggish in an arena with large swaths of empty seats. Just three players scored in the first half. If not for 10 points from freshman Mike Tobey, Virginia would’ve trailed by much more than three at halftime.
The Seminoles, as many team have done this season, left point guard Jontel Evans open on the perimeter, instead focusing their defensive energies on Virginia’s other options. Evans missed all but one of his eight shot attempts and his inability to make Florida State (16-14, 8-9) pay caused all sorts of offensive issues.
The Cavaliers hit just 2 of their 14 three-point attempts and shot only 38.6 percent from the floor. Harris, just a week removed from scoring a career-high 36 points in an upset over No. 3 Duke, had a second straight poor shooting performance, finishing with 13© points on 5 of 15 shooting.
Forward Akil Mitchell led Virginia with 15 points and 12 rebounds, much of his production coming off of second-chance points, the one area in which the Cavaliers excelled all night.
Nonetheless, Florida State upped its lead to double digits early in the second half with forward Okaro White (17 points) and Snaer (14 points) leading the charge. The Cavaliers’ usually stingy defense didn’t help matters, allowing the Seminoles to shoot 52.6 percent from the floor after halftime.
But unlike Sunday’s 53-52 loss at Boston College, when Virginia fumbled away an 11-point lead, the Cavaliers mounted a charge late in Thursday’s contest. Virginia went on a 15-3 surge and took a 51-50 lead on two free throws by Harris with 1:28 remaining, making the loss even more disappointing.
“That’s probably the biggest knock on us right now,” Mitchell said. “We need to win these close road games.”
Snaer followed Harris’s free throws with a missed jumper on Florida State’s next possession, and the Cavaliers set up a play for Harris on the other end. But Evans couldn’t get the ball to him, and instead fed Mitchell, who failed to convert a difficult up-and-under lay-in over White with 21 seconds to go.
It set the stage for a highlight that could stick with Virginia all offseason should its name not be called come Selection Sunday.
“I don’t know where we’re positioned, but the last couple games when you’ve had chances to win them and are unable to get them, it just stings,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Because every win you get is going to make your case stronger.”