By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BLACKSBURG — The pattern, for one of these basketball teams, is troubling.
With three minutes left in the second half at John Paul Jones Arena, UVa led Virginia Tech by 10 points on Jan. 28.
With two minutes left in the second half at Cassell Coliseum, UVa led Tech by three points on Saturday night.
Each ACC game ended the same way: with the Wahoos ruing lost opportunities and reeling from an excruciating loss.
The clash in Charlottesville went to overtime, the Hokies winning 76-71. The battle in Blacksburg didn’t require an extra period.
Tech outscored Virginia 13-4 in the final two minutes Saturday night and won 61-55 before 9,847 fans, about 99 percent of whom were pulling for the home team.
“It’s just the worst way to lose, because there’s no excuse for it,” junior forward Will Sherrill said in the subdued visitors’ locker room.
“We’re right there, and we just need to execute offensively and defensively. There’s too many games that we’ve been right there with the lead and given it away. So we just gotta get better.”
The Wahoos (5-4, 14-8) have been hammered only twice this season: at South Florida on Nov. 16 and at Wake Forest on Jan. 23.
They’ve lost by 5 points to Stanford, by 3 to Penn State, by 1 to Auburn, by 6 and 5 to Virginia Tech, and, in another overtime setback, by 3 to Wake at JPJ.
“We’re right there,” sophomore swingman Sylven Landesberg said. “We’re able to compete with the best of them. We just need that extra push.”
During his postgame press conference, Virginia’s first-year coach, Tony Bennett, looked down at the box score on the table and noted that Tech (7-3, 20-4) had three players with at least 10 points: junior guards Dorenzo Hudson (15) and Malcolm Delaney (13) and junior big man Jeff Allen (13).
The ‘Hoos, for the second straight game, had two. Against Wake Forest last weekend, Landesberg scored 28 points and junior forward Mike Scott added 10. Against the Hokies on Saturday night, Scott scored 20 and Landesberg 17.
Their teammates were 6 for 29 from the floor. Guards Jontel Evans, Sammy Zeglinski, Mustapha Farrakhan, Calvin Baker and Jeff Jones were a combined 4 for 20.
“Some guys had some rhythm looks, and that’s where we need that third guy to step up and make some,” Bennett said.
Asked whom he considers that “third guy,” Bennett said, “That’s a good question. Sammy’s been it at times. Sometimes it’s been Mu. Sometimes it’s been [senior center Jerome Meyinsse] if he’s scoring. It could be Jeff in certain games.
“We’re searching. There’s not a guy. I wish I could tell you there was, and I think that would help us, but that’s who we are.
“We keep fighting. Again, we keep telling them, ‘Hey, let your defense keep you in there.’ It did. But you need to be balanced. You need to make some shots in games like this. It’s hard to win it with your defense. In the games we’ve shot it a little better then, boy, it’s a nice combination, and we’ve been successful.”
For the season, Landesberg is averaging 18 points, and Scott is next at 13.4. Zeglinski (9.7 ppg) is third, but he’s been sick recently and has missed 21 of his past 27 shots from the floor. He was 2 for 9 on Saturday night and had a costly turnover, caused by the long-armed Allen, with UVa trialing 54-51 in the final minute.
“Our defense once again it kept us in the game, but it was a poor shooting night, especially for me,” Zeglinski said. “We just gotta turn it around and start making shots.
The Hokies weren’t much more than accurate than UVa — they shot 37 percent from the floor — but they executed when it counted. A three-point play by Allen with 1:51 left pulled Tech to 51-51 and revved up an anxious crowd.
Then, after Baker missed an open 15-footer at the other end, Allen slipped away from Meyinsse and calmly drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the Hokies ahead for good.
The 6-7, 230-pound Allen was 2 for 2 from beyond the arc Saturday night, but he’s 8 for 25 for the season.
“Yeah, that’s a shot we’ll live with,” Zeglinski said. “Give credit to him for knocking it down.”
Virginia, which came in ranked third among ACC teams in 3-point percentage, attempted 18 treys. Only three dropped through. The last was a top-of-the-key shot by Sherrill that stunned the crowd and put the ‘Hoos up 49-47 with 3:31 left.
After a Delaney free throw pulled Tech to 49-48, Sherrill spotted Scott alone under the basket and fed him for a dunk that made it 51-48 with 2:06 left. That was UVa’s final field goal until Zeglinski drove for an uncontested layup with 7.1 seconds left and the outcome decided.
Another problem for the Cavaliers: They were 10 for 15 from the line on a night when Tech went 16 for 20.
“Our defense definitely carried us throughout the game, but like Coach Bennett said, you gotta be able to knock shots down,” Landesberg said. “I think tonight was just one of those nights we weren’t really feeling it.”
In a sign of things to come for UVa, its first possession ended when Scott’s dunk attempt bounced off the front of the rim, delighting the Hokies’ fans.
Scott had missed his final 10 field-goal attempts in his previous game, the overtime loss to Wake, and he missed 6 of his first 7 against Tech. But he persevered and eventually found his touch, finishing 8 for 16 from the floor. He also had 13 rebounds, his career high in an ACC game.
A three-point play by Scott gave UVa a 22-19 lead, and he followed with a trey that made it 25-21 at the break. Bennett was pleased to be ahead, but his team’s poor marksmanship worried him.
“I said at halftime to our staff, I think we left too many on the table, or too many on the board, where I thought we needed to cash in,” Bennett said.
His concerns proved to be well-founded. Virginia shot better in the second half, but its field-goal percentage for the game, 32.8, was its second-lowest of the season. The ‘Hoos shot 32.7 percent in their loss at South Florida.
“Tonight, we were getting a lot of good looks, but they just weren’t going down,” said Sherill, who was 1 for 4. “We didn’t knock down many 3s. Inside, we missed a few layups, missed some free throws, but we still put ourselves in a position to win, and we gave it away.”
The game at Tech started a stretch in which the Cavaliers will play four times in eight days. Next up is the makeup game at Maryland. The teams were scheduled to meet Wednesday night in College Park, but the latest snowstorm to batter the D.C. area forced that game to be postponed.
Maryland (6-3, 16-7) hosts UVa at 8 p.m. Monday.
“We gotta take it one game at a time,” Sherrill said, “but if we want to make some moves in the ACC, we gotta start winning these close games, and it starts on Monday night.”