By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Sammy Zeglinski demonstrated his flair for the dramatic yet again Thursday night, forcing overtime against Virginia Tech with a 25-footer that set off an explosion of cheers inside John Paul Jones Arena and lifted the sagging spirits of his basketball team.
“I definitely thought we were going to win after that,” UVa forward Mike Scott said.
Granted a reprieve by Zeglinski’s bomb, Virginia failed to capitalize. The Hokies dominated the extra period much the way they’d owned the final three minutes of regulation, pulling away for a 76-71 win before 13,449 fans, a season high at JPJ.
The Cavaliers’ epic collapse left them stunned.
“It was tough not to get this one,” Zeglinski said, “because we had the lead so many times and couldn’t close it.”
Virginia (3-2, 12-6) led by 12 with 5:05 left in the first half, only to go into the break trailing 28-27 after a series of defensive breakdowns. But the Wahoos, buoyed by their fans’ support, pulled away again after intermission. And after a turnover by Tech (3-2, 16-3) with 3:18 left, the ‘Hoos were on the brink of a victory that would have moved them into a tie for first in the ACC.
Instead, they unraveled. A string of mental lapses and blown assignments by UVa fueled the Hokies’ comeback, starting with a decision by junior guard Jeff Jones.
Jones, whose stepback jump shot had put Virginia up 62-52 with 3:43 left, got the ball in transition with the score unchanged. Instead of running off precious seconds, however, he launched a 3-point attempt barely three seconds into the shot clock.
It missed, and when the Hokies scored to pull to 62-54 with 2:57 left, the comeback was under way.
“It’s a dagger if he makes it, but I thought the wise decision would have been to pull that out, and he knew that once he shot it,” said Tony Bennett, UVa’s first-year coach.
“That’s when you certainly want to work the clock. It wasn’t as sound down the stretch with some of our decisions.”
Jones said: “It was just an emotional shot. I got tied up in the game.”
If that had been the Wahoos’ only mistake in the final minutes, this one never would have gone to overtime. But UVa fell apart in almost every area, turning the ball over, attempting ill-advised shots and, with its lead down to four, leaving junior guard Dorenzo Hudson unguarded on the right wing.
“I thought we played hard, but not smart,” Scott said.
Hudson’s trey made it 62-61. Virginia got a good look at the other end — Jones missed an open 3-pointer from the left corner — and then J.T. Thompson scored inside to put the Hokies ahead 63-62 with 39.2 seconds showing, their first lead in more than 15 minutes.
Blanketed by Tech guard Malcolm Delaney (27 points), Virginia’s Sylven Landesberg forced an off-balance shot that failed to reach the rim. The Cavaliers had to foul, and Delaney’s two free throws with 10.1 seconds left extended Tech’s run to 13-0. More important, they put the Hokies up 65-62.
Zeglinski hadn’t made a field goal since Jan. 18, but he wasn’t deterred. He’d hit head-shaking 3-pointers at key moments against Cleveland State and Penn State earlier in the season, and with 1.3 seconds left Thursday night he drilled a long, long jumper over the outstretched arms of Delaney.
“It was a heck of a shot,” Bennett said. “I was hoping being at home the momentum would come [in overtime].”
It didn’t. The Hokies scored the first five points of OT. Zeglinski’s second trey made it 70-68 at the 2:21 mark, but Thompson forced a turnover and scored five points in the final 1:55 to keep Virginia at bay.
With 8 seconds left in overtime and silence settling over stunned UVa supporters, a Tech fan yelled, “J.T.’s the man!”
Nobody could dispute that.
The Hokies lost their best post player, Jeff Allen, with 13:41 left in the second half after the 6-7 junior was ejected for an elbow to Jones’ head. Thompson made sure Allen wasn’t missed.
The chiseled 6-6 junior from Monroe, N.C., scored 15 of his 17 points after intermission, often overpowering the ‘Hoos inside.
“He’s a tough matchup,” Bennett said. “He did the job as the game wore on. He’s so active. He plays so hard. You can see that. Just kind of a workhorse for them, and certainly was a significant key to their victory.”
For Virginia, Scott had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals and attempted — and made — his first trey of the season. But the 6-8, 239-pound junior took only four shots after halftime, in part because of increased defensive attention by Tech, in part because his teammates stopped looking for him.
“I think there were some times we maybe had opportunities to go to him, and we just didn’t. Sometimes we just didn’t make the next pass,” Bennett said.
The Hokies “did a pretty good job sagging on him and made him work. But it was good to see him play that active and that hard … He was certainly aggressive early.”
For the second straight game, Landesberg (18 points) picked up two first-half fouls, and Bennett again sat his leading scorer for the rest of the period.
Wake Forest capitalized on Landesberg’s extended absence with a run that left UVa down 19 at halftime. Against Virginia Tech, Landesberg was called for two fouls in a span of 25 seconds. The second came at the 4:29 mark, with UVa leading 22-13.
Landesberg went to the bench, and the Hokies went off, closing the half with a 15-5 run.
He avoided further foul trouble after halftime, but Landesberg struggled in other ways. He finished with 6 turnovers.
“Sometimes I just felt like I had to make a play happen,” he said. “I just tried to force it, I guess.”
Overall, Virginia matched its season high with 16 turnovers, an uncharacteristic display of carelessness from a team that came in averaging 10.3. Moreover, the ‘Hoos hurt themselves from the line.
In a Jan. 9 victory at N.C. State, UVa made 19 of 20 free throws. Against Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers hit only 15 of 22.
Landesberg, who came in shooting 83 percent from the line, was 0 for 2 and missed the front end of a one-and-one in overtime. Jones, a 75-percent shooter, was 5 for 8.
“When they’re going in, it makes it a little easier to win down the stretch, there’s no question,” Bennett said.
With another winter storm in the forecast, the Cavaliers will leave Friday night, instead of Saturday, for Tobacco Road. UVa meets defending NCAA champion North Carolina (2-3, 13-7) in Chapel Hill on Sunday night.
The sting of losing to the Hokies in such gut-wrenching fashion may take awhile to wear off.
“There were certainly some good things to draw from this game, I’ll say that, but it hurts to be in that spot and not come away with a victory,” Bennett said. “It really does.”