By Jeff White (email@example.com)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — If not for the historical implications, there would have been little remarkable about UVa’s win over Florida State at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The Cavaliers, after all, defeated FSU twice during the regular season, each time by 12 points, and they came into the ACC tournament seeded No. 1. The Seminoles were seeded No. 9.
Make no mistake, though, the result of Friday’s first quarterfinal carried special significance for the sixth-ranked Wahoos. The victory sends them to the ACC semifinals for the first time since 1995.
“It was good to get that monkey off our back,” point guard London Perrantes said after the Cavaliers’ 64-51 win over the ‘Noles.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, UVa (26-6) will face fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (25-8), which knocked off fourth-seeded North Carolina 80-75 in the second quarterfinal Friday.
In the teams’ only regular-season meeting, on Super Bowl Sunday, the Cavaliers stunned the Panthers 48-45 on a last-second 3-pointer by Malcolm Brogdon at the Petersen Events Center.
Virginia had a bye into the ACC quarterfinals, which means Perrantes, a freshman, has a career postseason record of 1-0. For UVa seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, though, the victory was their first in any round of an ACC tournament.
Harris, a 6-6 guard, led all scorers with 20 points, his high in an ACC game this season. He made 7 of 12 shots from the floor, his most accurate outing since Jan. 18, when he was 6 for 8 in UVa’s win over Florida State at John Paul Jones Arena.
“We had the Miami meltdown in my first year, which was a tough one to swallow,” Harris said Friday, “and then [UVa lost] to two good NC State teams in back-to-back years. But this feels good. This is very rewarding. It’s a huge step for the program, for us to get it going in the right direction and show that we’re capable of playing in the postseason.”
For Tony Bennett, Virginia’s fifth-year coach, the win improved his ACC tourney record to 2-4. The other victory came in a first-round game in Bennett’s first season with the Cavaliers.
“We just knew that if we played our game we’d be fine,” Mitchell said. “Coach Bennett didn’t say a word about it. It’s about the here and now at this point.”
Mitchell, a 6-8 post player, helped the `Hoos slow down FSU star Okaro White in the second half Friday. The 6-9 White scored only four of his team-high 17 points after intermission.
“I thought Akil’s mobility and defensive prowess showed, and it was an important matchup for us,” Bennett said.
Gill, a 6-8 redshirt sophomore from nearby High Point, finished with 16 points, his career high against an ACC opponent.
“I feel like today we just really wanted to go out there and prove to everybody that we deserved to be here,” said Gill, who sat out last season after transferring to UVa from South Carolina. “We deserved to be the No. 1 seed.”
Atkins, a 6-8 junior, contributed six points in his 14 minutes.
“I feel like I gave my team a great lift coming off the bench,” Atkins said. “I had great energy, and I wasn’t trying to be selfish, and I felt like I had a good day.”
Atkins’ final points came on a rim-shaking follow dunk that pushed Virginia’s lead to 57-42 with 7:49 left.
“I felt like that one was the best of my college basketball career so far,” Atkins said of his slam. “Coach kept emphasizing to crash the glass, so that was the main thing that I was focusing on when I got back in in the second half, and I felt like when it came off the glass, it was mine.”
Brogdon, a 6-5 redshirt sophomore, grabbed a team-high nine rebounds but was only 2 for 10 from the floor and had three turnovers. On this day, though, the Cavaliers didn’t need a huge game from their All-ACC guard.
“I think one of the strengths in our team this year has been depth,” Bennett said. “So when a guy like Malcolm [has] an uncharacteristic game for him, to see those guys step up, and just getting the contributions from the masses, that was important. And I think that was a key in the game.”
Brogdon said: “I just wasn’t in the rhythm tonight as much as I have been recently. But it happens. I’m glad we won, and you gotta move on.”
UVa trailed for a total of 113 seconds in its two regular-season games against FSU. In the third meeting, however, the Cavaliers didn’t take their first lead until the 12:33 mark of the first half, on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer by Harris from the top of the key.
Harris stayed hot, finishing 3 for 6 from beyond the arc. He felt good in warmups, but he knows that doesn’t always carry over to the game.
“It’s kind of hard to tell when you’re warming up whether it’s going to be a good day or not,” Harris said, “because there’s times when it seems the rim is as big as an ocean, and you’re just hitting everything, and then you get in the game and it’s a different story.”
His second trey dropped in after resting on the rim for a moment, stretching Virginia’s lead to 48-37 with 11:39 remaining. “I thought I had left it short,” Harris said, smiling. “I’ll take it.”
FSU advanced to the quarterfinals with an 67-65 win over Maryland on Thursday. After the game, when asked about the Seminoles’ loss at John Paul Jones Arena, where tempers flared in the final minutes, White questioned the Cavaliers’ toughness.
“You know, we heard about all of that stuff,” Gill said, “and we were on our way [to Greensboro] when we saw it. But Coach Bennett, he kind of reeled us back in whenever anybody was kind of getting a little bit hyped. He told us it’s not about that. It’s all about us, to stay poised throughout the whole game and don’t lose your mind out there. That’s what we tried do throughout the game.”
Mitchell said: “We let our play do the talking.”
Sloppy turnovers and poor rebounding hindered UVa for much of the first half. But once the `Hoos locked in, their focus rarely wavered. They led for the final 23 minutes, 9 seconds.
“They kept executing and executing,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “That’s why I think they’re probably one of the top teams that I’ve seen in a long, long time. Playing within themselves, playing to their strengths, staying away from their weaknesses, making you pay every time you make a defensive mistake.”
On the UVa bench, Bennett was more animated than usual Friday, almost from the opening tipoff.
“I was just trying to encourage and be engaged and be passionate,” Bennett said. “That’s what we talked about to our guys: Be passionate. Play with passion wisdom, passion and compassion.”
On the bus ride back to the team hotel after the game, sophomore swingman Justin Anderson turned to his teammates and yelled, `We got one, fellas. We got one.’ ”
The Cavaliers will try to get another one Saturday against Pitt. A win would send them to the ACC final for the first time since 1994.
“Postseason is a special time,” Bennett said. “We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”