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Holding the roof down

If you had asked a Virginia fan a few months ago which senior would help Mustapha Farrakhan carry the team to a Senior Night victory, the answer would have been simple - Mike Scott. But with two seconds left on the clock of last night's game, Farrakhan dribbled to his left and slapped hands with somebody else - Will Sherrill.

The guy who grinded out 37 minutes and hit big shot after big shot en route to 14 points? That was supposed to be Scott, the man whose face filled out just about every preseason basketball advertisement in town. Instead it was Sherrill, a former walk-on whom I harshly relegated to "post-injury irrelevance" in my previous column. Whether it was having his family on hand for his final home game or his return to the starting lineup, the man who has overcome two leg injuries this season put on a feel-good performance that helped add Senior Night to the Cavaliers' short list of feel-good memories during this stormy 2010-11 season. Sherrill's first two triples sparked a 16-0 opening run that kept N.C. State from ever touching Virginia's lead, and he knocked down two more important jumpers to keep the Wolfpack at bay during the second half. And as the post-game notes dutifully point out, his 14 points marked the first time he had reached double figures in the continental United States.

But let's not neglect the other half of the team's senior equation. Farrakhan's 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting weren't enough to beckon any mentions on SportsCenter, but they were enough to cap off one of his team's most solid all-around performances of the season. Mu knocked down a handful of key free throws and jumpers during the second half, none bigger than his three-ball at the 3:23 mark that extended Virginia's lead to 59-50 and shattered the Wolfpack's mounting momentum that came after two straight buckets. Even Grandpa Louis, attending his first game at JPJA, had to smile at that one.

The seniors didn't do it all, though. Joe Harris set an ACC-career high with 19 points to lead all scorers, and Assane Sene racked up enough swats to move him into 10th place on the school's all-time block list. Akil Mitchell joined the block party with two rejections of his own, and Sammy Zeglinski tied a season high with five assists.

Yet something stood out more than any individual accomplishment. In a word, it was composure. Apart from surrendering a 17-2 run during the game's early stages, Virginia upheld its lead with a sense of maturity it has lacked for much of the season. When N.C. State threatened with a three-pointer, Virginia countered with one of its own. When the Cavaliers missed an easy shot or committed a turnover, they hustled to the other end and clamped down on defense. Generally, when a basketball team does all the little things and keeps its emotions steady, the team doesn't fold. In the waning minutes of last night's contest, Virginia played cohesive defense, broke the full-court press and went 8-of-9 from the charity stripe during the last two minutes. That's why there was a lack of drama in the closing seconds - Virginia was too steady to let its opponent create any.

In the twilight of a roller-coaster season, Virginia finds itself with the most conference wins under its belt since the 2006-07 season. At this point, that probably only will amount to an NIT or CBI invitation, but it at least gives the Cavaliers confidence heading into the season finale against hated rival Maryland. Beyond College Park lies Greensboro, where the ACC Tournament will provide an opportunity to start anew next week.

Senior Night made for a nice Charlottesville finale, but if this team is really as composed as they appeared during the second half last night, they'll realize this season is anything but over.

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