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No. 3 men’s basketball defeats No. 23 N.C. State in overtime, 66-65

The Cavaliers stymie the Wolfpack’s upset bid behind balanced scoring

<p>Junior transfer guard Braxton Key led the Cavaliers in rebounds, with eight.</p>

Junior transfer guard Braxton Key led the Cavaliers in rebounds, with eight.

No. 3 Virginia defeated No. 23 N.C. State Tuesday night at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. as the Wolfpack’s comeback fell just short.

The Cavaliers (19-1, 7-1 ACC) stayed atop the ACC standings with a gritty win against the Wolfpack (16-5, 4-4 ACC), who proved to be a difficult matchup.

Just like they did last week against Clemson, the Wolfpack mounted a late run to challenge the visiting Cavaliers, who led for most of the game. This time, however, their upset bid fell short.

“We’re thankful for the win, but we need to grow from this and learn from it,” Virginia men’s basketball Coach Tony Bennett said. 

N.C. State’s high pressure made Virginia struggle on offense, forcing the Cavaliers out of their rhythm. Virginia had a season-high 16 turnovers — an extremely high tally for a team averaging a national best 8.4 turnovers per game before this contest. The Wolfpack had just eight turnovers.

“N.C. State plays good defense,” Bennett said. “They’re good with their hands, they’re athletic, they’re aggressive and they did rattle us and take us out of our rhythm.”

Virginia never trailed in the first half but never led by more than seven points.

Like Duke, N.C. State did a great job contesting the Cavaliers’ three-point shots. They forced Virginia to score inside and in doing so, kept the game close.

Although the Cavaliers shot 61.1 percent from the field in the first half, they attempted just one three-pointer and had eight first-half turnovers, yielding only 27 points.

Virginia led 27-23 going into the second half.

The Cavaliers, however, came roaring out of the gates to start the second half, going on a 8-1 run to take a double digit lead, 35-24, with 16:40 left to play.

As Virginia’s hot shooting started to cool down, N.C. State made somewhat of a dent in the Cavaliers’ lead, but Virginia still led 51-43 with 5:55 remaining in the game on a layup by junior forward Mamadi Diakite. Diakite finished the game with eight points, five rebounds and four blocks.

Then, the Wolfpack surged on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 53 points apiece with 1:29 to play. N.C. State senior guard Torin Dorn scored seven of his 13 points on the run.

The next possession was crucial for the Cavaliers. Sophomore guard De’Andre Hunter drove to the basket but missed the layup. Fortunately, junior transfer guard Braxton Key was there for the tip-in to restore Virginia’s lead at 55-53.

Key had a solid game with eight points and a team-high eight rebounds.

On the subsequent possession, senior center Jack Salt found himself matched up against N.C. State junior guard Markell Johnson, a clear mismatch. Salt was forced to foul Johnson on his drive to the basket.

Johnson sank both free throws to tie the game at 55, and Salt was forced to leave the game after fouling out.

Junior guard Ty Jerome had a chance to give Virginia the win on the game’s last possession, but his off-balance runner just rimmed out, and the game went to overtime.

Johnson hit a three on the first possession of overtime for N.C. State, but Virginia responded immediately with an alley-oop by sophomore forward Jay Huff. Huff converted the free throw after being fouled by N.C. State graduate transfer forward Wyatt Walker to make it 58-58.

The rest of the overtime period passed uneventfully until junior guard Kyle Guy hit a difficult, contested three-pointer to make it 64-61 Virginia with 2:00 to go. It was Guy’s only three-pointer of the night but a critical basket.

“That was huge. That was huge for him,” Bennett said. “You always want him, when he has a good look, to take the shot.”

N.C. State cut Virginia’s lead to one, but two free throws by Hunter left the Wolfpack needing a three to tie. Hunter led the Cavaliers in scoring with 15 points.

They had the opportunity to do just that when Hunter fouled Johnson on a three-pointer, but Johnson missed the first free throw and the Cavaliers escaped with a hard-fought 66-65 victory in a hostile road environment.

Up next for Virginia is some much-needed rest before taking on Miami at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.