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Virginia basketball suffers a 77-63 defeat against hot-handed NC State

The Wolfpack used two 11-point runs to ensure a comfortable lead in the second half, with a 60 percent field goal clip proving to be too much for the Cavaliers

<p>Virginia senior forward Jayden Gardner scored 13 points for the Cavaliers in the loss to NC State Saturday.</p>

Virginia senior forward Jayden Gardner scored 13 points for the Cavaliers in the loss to NC State Saturday.

In another must-win scenario for a team outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble, Virginia aimed to knock off a struggling yet talented NC State team on the road Saturday. The Cavaliers (11-8, 5-4 ACC) — who had formerly held an 11-game winning streak in the Wolfpack’s (10-10, 3-6 ACC) home arena — succumbed to the three-point shooting success of senior forward Jericole Hellems and freshman guard Terquavion Smith. Albeit in defeat, junior guard Armaan Franklin paced the Cavaliers with 14 points while sophomore guard Reece Beekman showed promise once again on both sides of the ball.

Virginia seemed to be in control early, with senior forward Jayden Gardner notching eight of his team’s first 15 points en route to a six-point lead. Both teams relied heavily on three-pointers and enjoyed success from behind the arc, with senior guard Kihei Clark trading deep baskets with Smith and Hellems for a wild two minutes. Despite Virginia eventually capturing a 26-18 lead, the Wolfpack would launch an offensive assault that led to a three-point deficit for the Cavaliers. Junior guard Casey Morsell — a transfer from Virginia who left the program after last season — played a prominent role in catapulting his new squad back in front.

Franklin stopped the bleeding momentarily with a three-pointer to even the score at 29-29, but  NC State was not finished. Another 11-point run — capped by two big baskets from Hellems — gave all the momentum in PNC Arena to the hot-handed Wolfpack. The Cavaliers would enter halftime down 43-32, despite gaining an early eight-point advantage.

Things continued to snowball in the second half for Virginia, who watched as NC State surged to a 19-point lead with under 15 minutes to play. Beekman — who had already made two shots from beyond the arc — did his best to narrow the gap, but the home team had extended the lead too far. With the game essentially out of reach, the Wolfpack saw their advantage stretch to as much as 21 points in a nightmarish half for the Cavaliers. To make matters worse, Morsell dominated his former team, with 10 points in the latter 20 minutes of play.

Virginia — who has had a bad habit of going on scoring droughts at inopportune times — actually shot a season-high 59 percent from three-point range in defeat. The Wolfpack were just as lethal from long range, though, and showcased more efficiency from inside the arc to cruise to an easy 77-63 victory. 

“We’re not going to win too many games if our defense is below-average,” Coach Tony Bennett said in a postgame press conference. “I didn’t think we had that [defense] the way we needed to, but we have to turn it around quick for sure.”

Even though NC State cashed in on a few unlikely three-point attempts, the Cavaliers played one of their worst defensive games of the season. Bennett’s team -— who allowed nine three-pointers in the first half — did not look as sound in their rotations, and allowed Smith and Hellems to feast from behind the arc. More importantly, the offense struggled immensely during the two spurts from the Wolfpack, which ultimately buried Virginia in another disappointing loss. 

Despite the beatdown in Raleigh, Franklin has shown some signs of development on the offensive side of the ball after posting an inefficient shooting mark to start the season. Beekman and Gardner continue to record double-digit scoring efforts, while Clark has recently taken a backseat role to the three aforementioned Cavaliers. Chances of an NCAA Tournament bid are dwindling ever so rapidly, as Virginia likely must win the vast majority of its remaining ACC games to have a chance at the Big Dance.

The Cavaliers will return to Charlottesville Monday to take on Louisville in a battle of evenly-matched teams. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN.