In a Monday night match-up that featured the best scoring defense versus the second-best scoring offense in the ACC, Virginia fell to NC State 53-51. The Cavaliers (12-6, 4-4 ACC) had a late second-half surge to gain the lead, but couldn’t finish against the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3 ACC).
Junior forward Jay Huff sank a hook shot to get things going in the first-half, but Wolfpack junior forward D.J. Funderburk responded with a bucket of his own in NC State’s first possession.
However, Virginia looked sloppy early, as a NC State block and Virginia turnover led to two fastbreak layups for the Wolfpack, allowing them to take an early 6-2 lead. Senior guard Braxton Key responded with a layup, but Funderburk reestablished NC State’s four point lead with two free-throws.
The Cavaliers then went on to sink two straight buckets — one being a floater in the paint from sophomore guard Kihei Clark — to tie the game back up at 8-8. The teams continued to go back and forth, as Virginia’s defense often stifled the dynamic Wolfpack offense while the Cavaliers looked uncomfortable because of NC State’s press.
With 10:51 to play, senior forward Mamadi Diakite sank Virginia’s first 3-pointer of the night, giving the Cavaliers a 15-13 advantage as they looked to gain some separation. Nevertheless, Funderburk responded with a thundering dunk, and the teams continued to go tit-for-tat.
After a tough layup by Key with 5:07 to go, Virginia went on a scoring drought lasting 4:26, leaving the door wide-open for a Wolfpack run. Nevertheless, the vaunted Cavalier defense held strong, holding NC State to just four points, until sophomore guard Kody Stattmann put an end to the drought with his first points of the evening. As this was the final score of the half, the Cavaliers went to the locker room down 28-26.
Virginia started the second-half in an emphatic fashion, as Huff blocked a layup attempt by Wolfpack sophomore forward Jericole Hellems. After a missed 3-pointer by Clark, senior guard C.J. Bryce drained NC State’s first 3-pointer of the game, hitting a contested shot from the corner. Although Huff responded with a 3-pointer of his own, junior guard Devon Daniels hit a second 3-pointer for the Wolfpack, stretching their lead to 34-29.
Daniels’ 3-pointer kicked off an 8-2 run by NC State, bringing the Wolfpack’s lead to 39-31 heading into the first media timeout of the half with 13:58 to play. A Virginia scoring drought lasting 6:37 contributed to this lengthy run by the Wolfpack, as the Cavaliers once again had to rely on its defense to stay in the game.
Freshman center Francisco Caffaro ended the drought with a layup in his first minute of the game, and Clark followed it up with a tough layup inside, sending Virginia fans into a deafening roar. Less than two minutes later, Diakite sank two free-throws to cut NC State’s advantage to five points, as the Wolfpack led the Cavaliers 42-37 going into a media timeout with 7:29 to play.
Freshman guard Casey Morsell sank a mid-range jumper to cut the deficit to three, but at the other end of the floor, Caffaro and Funderburk were issued technical fouls after getting tangled up. This was Funderburk’s fourth foul of the game, but Wolfpack Coach Kevin Keatts decided to leave him in.
“I have an injury on my thumb, and when I was running down the court, [Funderburk] grabbed my thumb,” Caffaro said, regarding the scuffle. “I said, ‘don’t grab my thumb again,’ and he said, ‘what are you going to do?’ and grabbed my thumb again, so I pushed him.”
However, the decision to keep Funderburk in bit Keatts in the back, as he was called for an off-ball foul on defense and was forced to watch the remaining 6:48 from the bench. Caffaro sank his two free throws, and after a quick stop, Morsell drained a corner 3-pointer to give Virginia its first lead since the first-half, 44-42.
A minute and a half later, Caffaro continued the physicality by converting a layup inside, but Wolfpack sophomore forward Jericole kept NC State in the game with a 3-pointer. Following a Diakite free-throw, Johnson sank the Wolfpack’s fifth 3-pointer to help NC State regain the lead at 48-47.
After this, Virginia struggled to convert on offense, as Morsell and Clark missed back-to-back field goals, while Hellems and Bryce scored on two straight NC State possessions to extend the Wolfpack’s lead to five points with 26 seconds to play.
After two missed one-and-ones from NC State and four free-throws from Clark, the Cavaliers found themselves with the ball off a rebound yet down 53-51. Unfortunately, Morsell was unable to sink a 3-pointer with two players contesting, so Virginia fell to NC State 53-51.
“We missed some pretty close ones — ‘bunnies’ — [and] had some unfortunate turnovers, but I think the start of the second-half for us was not a good start,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Our defense was not where it needed to be.”
Virginia will have a six days off before looking to rebound against Wake Forest Sunday afternoon. Tip-off in Winston-Salem is set for 12 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.