By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Scattered around a meeting room next to the home locker room in John Paul Jones Arena, UVa basketball players patiently answered questions about a painful loss.
Each player sounded the same theme.
“We couldn’t hit any shots,” junior point guard Jontel Evans said. “Our defense was there. If we could have hit some of those shots, maybe we would have come out victorious.”
“This is kind of one of those nights where the ball wasn’t going down for us,” sophomore swingman Joe Harris said.
“They had some tough shots go in,” senior forward Mike Scott said. “Our shots didn’t go in.”
“It’s one of those nights where nothing’s falling,” sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said.
Sometimes the stat sheet tells the story, and Sunday night was one such occasion. The Virginia team that shot 60 percent from the floor against George Mason, hit nine 3-pointers against Michigan, went 19 for 19 from the line against Winthrop?
That team missed the first of UVa’s two regular-season games with Virginia Tech. In front of a near-capacity crowd at JPJ, the No. 15 Cavaliers went 1 for 14 from 3-point range and, in the second half, 6 for 13 from the line in a 47-45 loss to the Hokies, who had been winless in ACC play.
“You don’t want to lose, and you especially don’t want to lose to Virginia Tech, especially at home,” Scott said. “It’s definitely frustrating.”
The 45 points were a season low for the Wahoos (2-2, 15-3), as was their 32.6-percent field-goal percentage.
“It was the hat trick,” said Tony Bennett, Virginia’s third-year coach. “We struggled from 3, struggled from the free-throw line and even missed some layups when we got to rim. But I told our guys, ‘What else can you do but take those?’ and they showed tremendous heart trying to get back into the game and fight. And even with all that cold shooting, there were still opportunities to have a chance to win this game. But we didn’t.”
Tech (1-4, 12-7) had not scored fewer than 55 points in a game this season, so Virginia played well enough defensively to win. But the Hokies made the contested shots the ‘Hoos missed, getting big contributions from sophomore forward Jarell Eddie (8 points), junior guard Erick Green (15 points) and, especially, guard Dorenzo Hudson (12 points).
Hudson, a fifth-year senior who played with Scott on the postgraduate team at Hargrave Military Academy in 2006-07, scored 6 points in the final 2:12 to help the Hokies end a two-game losing streak in this series.
His final shot was the game’s most dramatic. With the shot clock about to expire, Hudson launched a high-arcing 3-pointer from the left corner as the 6-8 Mitchell leaped at him. It dropped through with 16.5 seconds left, giving Tech a 47-43 lead and silencing the home fans in the crowd of 14,021.
“We were trying to close on him, and that was a dagger certainly,” Bennett said.
Hudson was fortunate to be in the game at that point. With 2:32 left, he’d picked up his fourth foul, after which Harris hit 1 of 2 free throws to put Virginia ahead 41-39. On Tech’s next possession, the 6-5, 220-pound Hudson posted up 6-1, 184-pound Sammy Zeglinski.
Hudson backed into Zeglinski once and then a second time, knocking the fifth-year senior from Philadelphia to the floor. UVa’s coaches and fans thought it was a charge that would have disqualified Hudson.
Instead, official Jamie Luckie called the foul on Zeglinski.
“I don’t know,” Zeglinski told reporters. “He said I flopped. I thought I had good position. He backed me down once and I didn’t flop the first time. Then once he did it again, I thought I took a charge. But the ref saw if differently.”
Hudson made 1 of 2 free throws to pull the Hokies to 41-40. An Evans layup went in and out at the other end, and then Green hit two foul shots to make it 42-41. Virginia’s 12th turnover followed, off a pass from Scott, and then Hudson scored on a baby hook after posting up 6-5, 215-pound freshman Malcolm Brogdon.
Evans’ floater made it 44-43 with 50.4 seconds left. UVa set its defense, looking for one final stop, only to be foiled by Hudson one last time Sunday night.
“He made the plays, he showed his experience, and he was the difference down the stretch,” Bennett said.
The loss was the Cavaliers’ first at JPJ this season. Not coincidentally, perhaps, it was also their first game without senior Assane Sene, a 7-0 center from Senegal. Sene suffered a fracture in his right ankle Thursday night in Virginia’s rout of Georgia Tech and had surgery the next day.
If Sene plays again this season, it’s not likely to be until March. He sat behind the UVa bench Sunday night, watching helplessly as his teammates struggled.
“We miss him a lot,” said Evans, who had a game-high 3 steals but made only 4 of 12 shots from the floor and 1 of 5 from the line.
“He’s a big communicator. He’s great on weakside help. It was tough playing without him.”
With Sene unavailable, Bennett started Mitchell alongside the 6-8, 237-pound Scott in the frontcourt. But for long stretches Sunday night, Bennett went with a lineup that included four perimeter players, with the 6-6 Harris at power forward and Scott at center.
“I thought it was pretty effective for the most part,” Bennett said.
Harris, scoreless in the first half, finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds. His roommate Zeglinski never got untracked offensively. Zeglinski went 5 for 6 from the line and grabbed 7 rebounds, but he went 0 for 7 from the floor — 0 for 6 from 3-point range.
Zeglinski, 0 for 8 from the floor in UVa’s 61-58 loss at Duke, bounced back from that performance to hit two treys and score 10 points Thursday night against Georgia Tech. After returning from Atlanta, however, he got sick and couldn’t practice Friday.
“He had a couple IVs put in him,” Bennett said. “He was throwing up. He caught a flu bug.”
Zeglinski was able to practice Saturday on a limited basis, but he labored Sunday night.
“I just tried to keep shooting with confidence, but it wasn’t my night,” he said. “Shots weren’t going in for me.”
Bennett said: “He gave everything he had. I just don’t think he had quite the steam or the lead in the pencil that maybe he needed. I think that had an effect on him. Again, he got some good looks, and they didn’t go down, but as a shooter you gotta shoot when they’re there, as long as you’re not forcing.”
The Hokies played a large role in the Cavaliers’ offensive woes.
“Credit to Virginia Tech,” Harris said. “They had a great game plan defensively coming in. They really stuck with us. They made it tough to get any inside looks. They were doubling Mike, and really their athleticism [and ability] to close out on shooters when Mike would kick it back out” bothered the ‘Hoos.
Bennett said: “They took away some of our strengths and said, ‘All right, we’re going to make you beat us in other ways.’ Again, we got some good looks, but they were physical. They’re a good defensive team, and they came up with some tough stops and made it hard.”
Three players finished with 10 points apiece for UVa: Scott, Harris and Evans. Scott came in averaging 16.9, and the Hokies doubled-teamed him frequently when he got the ball in the post. Scott took only two shots in the second half.
“We wanted to play Erick as a help defender and run a second defender at Mike,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “We wanted to guard Mike, and we wanted to guard him early. He really is a special player.”
The Cavaliers trailed 32-25 with 12:30 left. But with the crowd urging them on, the ‘Hoos ran off eight straight points to go up 33-32. With 4:54 to play, Virginia still was in front, 38-37, but its lead could have — and should have — been bigger. During a six-minute stretch of the second half, UVa went 3 for 8 from the line.
Even so, when Brogdon passed to Scott for a thunderous fast-break dunk with 4:21 left, it looked as if the Cavaliers might pull this one out. They led 40-37, and the fans’ roars threatened to bring down JPJ. Moments later, however, reserve guard Marquis Rankin, a Tech freshman, quieted the crowd, hitting a foul-line jumper to make it 40-39. It was Rankin’s only shot of the night.
“The momentum had shifted, and they came down and hit a shot,” Scott said. “That changed real quick.”
Next up for the Cavaliers is another ACC game in which they’ll be favored. Virginia hosts Boston College (2-3, 7-12) at 9 p.m. Thursday at JPJ.
“We just gotta regroup, refocus,” Evans said. “We play again on Thursday, which is the beauty of sports. You get to play again.”
Bennett said: “This is a tough loss, but it’s a loss. I [told the players], ‘It’s always what you do after that loss.’ We regroup. We learn from it, and hopefully come out and we’re more efficient offensively and continue to battle defensively, like we need to.”