By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Moments into Tony Bennett’s postgame press conference Saturday, the UVa men’s basketball coach was asked about the officiating, specifically the call by Dwayne Gladden that went against All-ACC candidate Mike Scott with 12:00 remaining. That saddled Scott with his fourth foul and forced Bennett to remove him from a game the Cavaliers were leading 41-37.
With Scott on the bench, No. 7 North Carolina scored seven straight points, a crucial stretch in a game that No. 25 UVa would lose 54-51.
“I’ll have to watch the tape,” Bennett said. “Right now it wouldn’t be wise for me to comment on the calls.”
He did not refrain, however, from talking at length about one of the game’s other major storylines: his team’s poor shooting, especially from the perimeter.
“The quality of shots was good,” Bennett said. “Again, I thought we got decent looks and took care of the ball. You gotta stick those when you get them.”
The Wahoos took 23 shots from 3-point range Saturday. They made only six of them. The ‘Hoos missed their final 10 shots from beyond the arc, including two in the final minute — the first by Scott and the second by guard Sammy Zeglinski — that Bennett considered excellent looks.
And that, as much as anything, was why UVa (21-7 overall, 8-6 ACC) lost to UNC (25-4, 12-2) before a near-capacity crowd of 14,273 at John Paul Jones Arena. Overall, Virginia shot only 35 percent from the floor.
“With some of the looks we had,” Bennett said, “you gotta be able to make a few more of those than that.”
Foul trouble limited Scott to 10 minutes in the first half and 22 overall, his low in an ACC game this season. But even when the 6-8, 237-pound fifth-year senior was on the court, he wasn’t his usual dominant self Saturday.
Scott came in leading the ACC in field-goal percentage (58.8), and it wasn’t close. No. 2 was UNC’s 7-footer, Tyler Zeller, at 54.1 percent. But in the Cavaliers’ second loss in two weeks to the Tar Heels, Scott hit only 3 of 13 shots from the floor.
“Most of the shots I took I normally make,” he said. “It was just one of those nights … I just couldn’t buy a basket. I don’t know what was going on.”
He finished with 6 points and a team-high 7 rebounds. His final shot was a 3-point attempt from the right corner with 48 seconds left and UVa trailing 52-51.
“I took my time, did everything [right],” Scott said. “It just went wide left.”
At the other end, Zeller, who was dominant throughout, made perhaps the game’s pivotal basket. With the shot clock at 5 seconds, Zeller got the ball from Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall about 13 feet from the basket. Zeller faked a shot, and his defender, UVa sophomore Akil Mitchell, jumped.
Zeller drove past Mitchell for a dunk that made it 54-51 with 13.3 seconds left.
“We got lifted on that last one … and that was a bad breakdown for us,” Bennett said. “It was very untimely.”
Scott said: “You just let [Zeller] shoot. The shot clock was winding down. We know he’s not a threat from out there, so let him shoot.”
Zeglinski, who scored all of his 11 points in the first half, somehow got free in the left corner, but his 3-point attempt with 5 seconds left missed, and Carolina corraled the rebound.
“I got a good look,” Zeglinski said. “It just didn’t go down.”
Carolina gave UVa another chance. With 3 seconds to play, UNC forward Harrison Barnes missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Joe Harris rebounded for the ‘Hoos.
A timeout allowed Bennett to draw up a final play, but Carolina had fouls to give. By the time the Cavaliers inbounded for the final time, the clock showed only 1.3 seconds, and they had to settle for a 40-foot heave by junior point guard Jontel Evans at the buzzer.
“Hopefully it goes in, but it didn’t,” said Evans, who scored 13 points and outplayed Marshall, his heralded UNC counterpart. “Tough loss. It really stings.”
When the teams met Feb. 11 in Chapel Hill, UNC outrebounded UVa 52-32 and pulled away for a 70-52 victory. The Tar Heels, whose starters include the 7-0 Zeller, 6-11 John Henson and the 6-8 Barnes, turned 23 offensive rebounds into 23 second-chance points in that game.
In the rematch, Carolina outrebounded UVa 48-29 — in part because foul trouble limited Bennett’s three tallest players, Scott, 6-8 freshman Darion Atkins and the 6-8 Mitchell, to 22, 18 and 17 minutes, respectively.
“We had to go small most of the game,” Evans said, “and they’re just too big for us to be going small, and they just took advantage of it.”
Barnes (3-for-15 shooting) was off his game, but Zeller had 20 points and 6 rebounds, and Henson contributed 15 points and 11 boards. Even so, UVa limited UNC, the nation’s top rebounding team, to 12 offensive boards and 9 second-chance points.
“It wasn’t outstanding,” Bennett said, “but it was an improvement, and that gave us a little bit of a chance.”
Zeglinski said: “I thought we played hard, and we definitely had a chance to pull it out in the end. We just couldn’t knock down that shot to get us over the hump. I thought we played pretty well throughout the night. Played the game at our tempo. It was tough with the foul trouble, but we battled, definitely.”
For long stretches Saturday, Harris had to play out of position at power forward. That was less than ideal for the 6-6 sophomore, but he turned in his best performance since breaking his non-shooting hand against the Heels in Chapel Hill.
Harris finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and a career-high 3 blocked shots in 28 minutes, and he was 2 for 5 from beyond the arc. Harris was often on the court with Virginia’s three freshmen — 6-6 Paul Jesperson, 6-5 Malcolm Brogdon and Atkins — each of whom impressed Bennett.
“I thought they fought,” Bennett said. “I like to see that, how they guarded, they rebounded, they stuck their nose in there. Made some plays in traffic, which in a game of this magnitude you’re going to have to. That was nice to see. I thought they all did some good things. There’s lot of room for improvement, but they gave us a good lift, and again Joe was in there knocking around, it didn’t even faze him. He’s tough, which is what we need to continue to add to this program.”
In the games after his injury, Harris said Saturday, he had been “kind of using my hand as an excuse for myself, saying, ‘It’s broken, so nobody else really expects me to do anything,’ and I was kind of taking that on myself and not expecting anything from myself.”
He shed that mindset Saturday, Harris said, telling himself that “regardless of having a broken hand or not, I still need to contribute and help the team out.”
Virginia went into the break leading 30-26, thanks to an off-balance 26-footer by Zeglinski at the buzzer. Scott, after picking up his second foul, watched the final 8:44 of the first half from the bench.
“It’s hard when he’s in foul trouble,” Zeglinski said, “but I thought we did an OK job of staying in the game.”
Scott found his rhythm briefly in the second half, scoring on a drive to make it 32-28 and then burying a jumper to push UVa’s lead to 37-31 with 16:59 left. He was called for his third foul at the 16:01 mark, however, and headed to the bench. Scott re-entered the game with 12:38 to play.
Thirty-eight seconds later came the call that incensed the Cavaliers’ coaching staff — Bennett glared at Gladden — and most of the fans at JPJ. After a miss by UNC’s James Michael McAdoo, Scott and Henson went for the rebound along the baseline. Henson briefly grabbed on the back of Scott’s jersey with his right hand, while Scott was using his left arm to shield Henson from the ball.
As Scott collected the rebound, Henson snapped his head back and threw his arms in the air as if he’d absorbed a severe blow. Gladden signaled a foul on Scott.
“I don’t know,” Scott told reporters. “I thought I boxed him out, but I guess I was a little too aggressive.”
Asked about Henson’s reaction to the contact, Scott offered a rueful smile. “I didn’t know I was that strong,” he said.
Evans said he saw the play unfold, “and all I’m going to say is I don’t think it was a foul.”
UNC coach Roy Williams, not surprisingly, saw it differently.
Henson “whipped back because there was an elbow in his face,” Williams said. The officials “went over and looked at [the video monitor] to see if it was something else, but it wasn’t. I don’t think that John is that good of an actor, and his face doesn’t run into too many elbows. I’m not saying that it was flagrant, but it was a foul.”
Had UVa made a couple more shots Saturday, the call might not have been such an issue. Even without a typical performance from their best player, the ‘Hoos had an opportunity beat UNC.
“The heart was there,” Bennett said. “We had to be a little unconventional at times, but I thought some of our young guys played their guts out, which I liked.”
UP NEXT: UVa will honor its three seniors — Scott, Zeglinski and the injured Assane Sene — before its final regular-season home game. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Virginia hosts No. 15 Florida State (19-8, 10-3) at JPJ.
When the teams met in Tallahassee early this month, the Seminoles pulled out a 58-55 victory.