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Road-weary Virginia travels to Tallahassee

Cavaliers battle Florida State, seek bounce back win

After an unforgettable night at John Paul Jones last Thursday, the Virginia basketball team once again faced the harsh reality of its road struggles Sunday against Boston College. The hype and exhilaration that surrounded the Cavaliers’ euphoric dislodging of then-No. 3 Duke eroded in a 53-52 loss to the ACC bottom-dwelling Eagles in Chestnut Hill.

Still, despite his disappointment in the result and in his team’s late game miscues, coach Tony Bennett was not discouraged by his team’s efforts or its ongoing struggles to finish games away from home.

“I watched our game closely and I don’t think there was a lack of effort,” Bennett said. “We played well enough to win. We had some breakdowns down the stretch, they made some plays.”

Whatever the cause of the Cavaliers’ (20-9, 10-6 ACC) setback, the team must regroup and recover against Florida State (15-14, 7-9 ACC) in its regular-season road finale Thursday in Tallahassee after falling to fourth in the ACC standings. The reigning ACC champion Seminoles have had an uncharacteristically weak season and have yet to beat a ranked opponent. Virginia won the team’s previous matchup in Charlottesville 56-36.

Despite the Cavaliers’ dominant defensive performance in the 20-point victory Jan. 19, their checkered history away from John Paul Jones suggests the rematch Thursday may be a close affair. Virginia is 17-1 at home but just 3-7 on the road this season, and has split home-road series with North Carolina, Clemson, Boston College and Georgia Tech this season.

“We’re a different team at home, and we [play] with a lot of confidence and physicality,” junior forward Akil Mitchell said.

The Cavaliers on the road have sometimes struggled with a floundering offense. For example, Virginia squandered an eight-point lead Sunday against the Eagles by scoring just three points in the final 4:27 of the game. The team has generally relied on the effort and suffocating pressure of its highly ranked defense, getting just enough offense from junior forward Akil Mitchell, senior point guard Jontel Evans and junior guard Joe Harris to weather offensive droughts.

The Cavaliers had hoped Harris’ breakout 36-point outburst against Duke would force opposing teams to adjust their defensive strategy to slow the sharp-shooting guard. Instead, Harris made just four of his 11 shots and scored 14 points as the Cavaliers’ offensive struggles returned.

Virginia appeared destined for an NCAA Tournament berth after knocking off Duke on a nationally-televised stage, but a bizarre resume featuring multiple key wins but even more confounding losses has left the team’s Tournament prospects still in doubt. Three different Colonial Athletic Association teams have beaten the Cavaliers this season and the team is just 2-6 in ACC road games. The team has two regular season games remaining and the ACC Tournament to state its case for a second straight at-large bid to the Big Dance.

“It’s all coming down to it in those spots,” Bennett said. “A lot will be shaken out here the last couple games.”

Virginia will conclude its season Sunday at John Paul Jones against Maryland, but first they will try to overcome an underachieving Florida State team. The Seminoles are led by All-American senior guard Michael Snaer, who is averaging 14.4 points per game this season.

“That’s always what we talk about — try to bounce back, play well — and obviously going into a road situation playing against Florida State, we’ll have to play well,” Bennett said.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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