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Seniors ready for final game at JPJ

Bennett hopes team shores up defensive issues against N.C. State

Mustapha Farrakhan is treating his last home game like any other.

 

"It's just another game," Farrakhan said. "It's just playing basketball and finishing it up."

 

For the senior guard's teammates, however, Tuesday's matchup against N.C. State (15-13, 5-9 ACC) takes on added significance. The game will mark Senior Night for the Cavaliers (14-14, 5-9 ACC) and will give the team's underclassmen a chance to honor Farrakhan and senior forward Will Sherrill.

 

"We just need to come out for our seniors," junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "Getting this win means a lot to us. We're a unified family."

 

With senior forward Mike Scott out for the season and Sherrill battling ankle injuries, Farrakhan has become the squad's de facto leader. He paces the team with 13.2 points per game and lets his play guide that of the younger players.

 

"I've always been a big fan of leading by example," Farrakhan said in a Feb. 14 interview. "I try to be more vocal, but sometimes if they see me doing it, they'll follow suit with me." Now the team has a chance to show Farrakhan what they have learned.

 

"He kind of took me under his wing last year and showed me the ropes, some of the dos and don'ts," sophomore guard Jontel Evans said. "I just want him to go out with a bang [tonight]."

 

To both Farrakhan and the rest of the Cavaliers, closing strong means rebounding from Saturday's 63-44 disappointment against Boston College. The team scored just 16 points during the second half on 25 percent shooting. But for Virginia's defensive-minded coach, Tony Bennett, improvement starts on the other side of the court.

 

"We've had some hard games offensively, but [defense] is what we talk about being the constant," Bennett said. "We'll have a chance [tonight] to determine if we are going to be able to learn from this and have a gut-check time."

 

During Virginia's contest against the Eagles, the Cavaliers allowed junior guard Reggie Jackson to score 25 points. Tonight, the team will try to prevent a similarly strong individual effort from senior forward Tracy Smith - the Wolfpack's leader with 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Smith dropped 18 points during the team's 79-74 win against Georgia Tech Saturday.

 

"[The coaches] are not going to let us hang our heads," freshman guard Joe Harris said. "They're going to forget about it and move on. Obviously they don't want another performance like this to happen, so they're going to do the best they can to get us ready for N.C. State."

 

The team knows it must have a short memory to recover from Saturday's loss. As Farrakhan attests, the season goes by too quickly to do otherwise.

 

"I keep telling the young guys, 'Take the good and the bad because it really flies by,'" Farrakhan said. "I can't really believe that I'm a senior now, but I just try to cherish every moment and give it all I got because I know that it's coming to a close"

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