CHARLOTTESVILLE — Midway through the second half of Thursday night’s game against Boston College, Virginia senior guard Sammy Zeglinski caught a pass in the corner and faced an open look. He fired without hesitation . . . and watched his shot sail over the rim. An air ball. Of course it was. Fortune doesn’t favor shooters who have missed 18 of their past 20 three-point attempts.
The difference on Thursday was that Zeglinski lessened the impact of his offensive struggles by contributing to his team’s cause in other ways. He tallied four steals before halftime. He grabbed three rebounds and dished a pair of assists. During 32 minutes of action against the Eagles, Zeglinski helped push the tempo, a strategy that carried No. 19 Virginia (16-3, 3-2 ACC) to a 66-49 victory.
Zeglinski — the sixth-most prolific three-point scorer in program history — made consecutive shots from beyond the arc to end the night, but entering Virginia’s road contest Saturday at North Carolina State (15-6, 4-2), it remains unclear whether the veteran guard’s cold shooting streak has completely passed. What is clear is that Zeglinski is becoming more effective at adding value to his minutes irrespective of his shot’s success rate.
“My shot has been pretty bad lately, so I was just finding ways to get it done to help the team,” Zeglinski said. “When things are going bad, you’ve just got to find other ways.”
With less than a minute remaining in the first half against Boston College, Zeglinski was losing control of the ball and tried to slap it out of bounds off the legs of an Eagles defender. Instead, the defender corralled the ball and passed it to a teammate. While his teammates ran to get back on defense, Zeglinski pestered the Boston College ballhandler and stole the ball back. Zeglinski then was fouled, and Virginia called a timeout.
On their ensuring possession, the Cavaliers ran down the shot clock before Zeglinski found sophomore guard Joe Harris for a three-point attempt. Harris scored, and Zeglinski got the assist. Virginia entered halftime with an eight-point lead.
Zeglinski’s “game is his feel and his ability to create stuff for other people, and then certainly shoot some shots,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. “With his shot not where it needs to be or where he wasn’t hitting, I thought he impacted the game in the right way in other areas. That’s what I keep stressing to him.”
When Zeglinski air-balled the three-pointer midway through the second half, Bennett said he thought to himself, “Oh man, he missed pretty bad on that.” But the message the coach gave Zeglinski in every huddle remained constant: “Keep shooting as long as it’s a good shot.”
Zeglinski said the faith his coaches and teammates maintained in him steeled his confidence and enabled him to forget about each miss quickly.
“Sammy, I know he was struggling, but I don’t worry about his shot,” said forward Mike Scott, a fifth-year senior. “It’s going to come around. I don’t pray every time he shoots.”
With 3 minutes 21 seconds remaining in the game Thursday, the Eagles double-teamed Scott in the post, but he tossed the ball to the opposite side of the court, where Zeglinski stepped into his third three-point attempt of the night. The score gave Virginia an 11-point lead, but the home crowd reacted as though Zeglinski had hit a game-winner.
Fifty-five seconds later, Zeglinski scored another three-pointer. Again, the crowd roared.
Zeglinski “impacted the game in other ways, and then late in the game he hit those two threes which were big for him and us, especially him for his confidence,” junior guard Jontel Evans said. “I think next game he’s going to be hot.”