Coming off of a two-game losing streak with losses against Florida State and Duke, the No. 15 Virginia men’s basketball team looked to get back to their winning ways on Wednesday. The Cavaliers (15-6, 11-4 ACC) faced off in a close one against NC State (11-9, 7-8 ACC). When it was all said and done, it was the Wolfpack that came out on top, edging Virginia 68-61.
“When you're in these tight games, any lapse you have - a missed block out, not forcing the guy the wrong way to screen — those just get magnified,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “This one hurt because they were more physical at times, and I thought we had some mental toughness that was in stretches good, but in times we lost our way a little bit.”
Prior to the game, the Cavaliers held a 9-0 record in home games for the season. The team’s winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena dates back to last season as Virginia has won 15 straight wins in the building. Back on Feb. 3, the Cavaliers got the best of NC State on the road by a score of 64-57.
The starting lineup for the game featured junior guard Kihei Clark, freshman guard Reece Beekman, junior guard Trey Murphy and senior forwards Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. After the first few possessions of the game went scoreless, freshman guard Cam Hayes stepped up for the Wolfpack with a three-pointer.
A possession later, junior forward Jericole Hellems also scored to put NC State, putting them ahead 5-0. Following a Huff turnaround hook shot, the teams went back and forth briefly before the Wolfpack put the pedal to the metal.
As the first half approached the midway mark, NC State built up a commanding 15-4 lead. At that point, the Cavaliers had shot an abysmal two-for-13 from the floor compared to six-for-10 for the Wolfpack.
Bennett attempted to wake up the team by substituting sophomore forward Justin McKoy, sophomore guard Casey Morsell and sophomore center Francisco Caffaro into the game. Despite this, the Cavaliers still trailed 21-10 with 7:50 left to go in the first frame.
Eventually, the team managed to heat up after a McKoy lay up was followed up with a wide open three-pointer by Clark. After starting two-for-13 from the floor, Virginia made five of their last nine field goals to make the score 25-17.
As NC State led 29-21, Beekman sank a fadeaway jumper right before the buzzer to pull the Cavaliers within six points.
“We got guys different shots and I thought we got really quality looks early and we missed some,” Bennett said. “Our defense sort of let us down but I thought offensively we did miss some shots that were quality looks and sometimes you just got to make shots.”
The second half immediately appeared as if it was going to be a completely different narrative. Back-to-back three-pointers from Hauser coming out of the locker room tied the game at 29-29. Despite the early momentum and a brief lead, Virginia was unable to pull away, and the Wolfpack eventually retook the lead 37-35.
With under 10 minutes to play in regulation, NC State was slowly but surely building an advantage, up 45-37. A slam dunk from Huff helped keep the Cavaliers in the mix with the score at 45-39.
As the game clock ticked under 7:30, senior forward D.J. Funderburk delivered four straight points to put the Wolfpack back ahead 51-41. Despite trailing by double-digits late in the game, Virginia continued to battle back.
A pair of free throws by Clark and a three-pointer by Huff were critical in slashing NC State's lead down to just five points. A few possessions later, the Wolfpack continued to maintain a 54-49 lead with the shot clock winding down. As the buzzer sounded, Hayes banked a three-pointer off the backboard to expand the lead to 57-49.
“We played good defense on that possession. They made a tough shot,” Hauser said. “Hats off to them because there's not much you can do about that one. It is just one of those things.”
The back-breaking shot all but put the game out of reach with not much time left to play. The game did come down to a dramatic finish — however, Hauser hit a pair of three-pointers to make the score 65-61 with 16.3 seconds to go.
After freshman guard Shakeel Moore dropped a pass out of bounds, it appeared that Virginia would have a chance to pull even closer. In spite of the opportunity, the Cavaliers were unable to capitalize, and the Wolfpack sealed the deal 68-61.
Hauser and Huff led Virginia with 21 and 19 points, respectively, while Hayes led NC State with 16 points. Additionally, the Wolfpack outshot the Cavaliers 45.45% to 37.04% in field goals.
“It was by no means a happy locker room, but we've been in bad situations before,” Huff said. “We will be alright and, obviously, we're frustrated, but we're just all trying to figure out what we can do better and what things we need to fix.”
Next up, Virginia will face Miami on March 1 in a home game. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. and the match-up will be broadcasted live on the ACC Network.