By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On the night he earned his 200th victory as a head coach, Tony Bennett lost starting point guard London Perrantes to a broken nose about five minutes into the second half at John Paul Jones Arena.
Another starter, guard Malcolm Brogdon, missed about two minutes while getting three stitches on his forehead after a violent collision with Perrantes. Yet another starter, swingman Justin Anderson, was already on the bench in street clothes, recovering from a Feb. 8 operation to repair a fractured finger.
None of that derailed UVa (25-1 overall, 13-1 ACC) as it matched the best 26-game start in program history.
“I thought our guys just found a way, and that’s what we had to do,” Bennett said after second-ranked Virginia defeated Florida State 51-41 in a fiercely contested game before a near-capacity crowd of 14,076.
“When London went out and Malcolm for a little bit, we just challenged them: Just dig down deep.”
The Wahoos made only 1 of 11 attempts from 3-point range Sunday, and Perrantes’ trey was the only shot outside the paint they hit all game. Compounding the Cavaliers’ offensive woes were their struggles at the line, where they made only 14 of 27 shots.
None of that kept the `Hoos from clinching one of the top four seeds in next month’s ACC tournament. Against Virginia’s relentless man-to-man defense, the Seminoles (15-13, 7-8) finished with fewer than 54 points for the first time this season and shot only 32.6 percent from the floor.
UVa held the `Noles without a field goal for the final 10:33.
“Of course we won it with our defense,” said Bennett, whose record in six seasons at Virginia is 131-61. “We didn’t win it with our free-throw shooting or our other stuff. But there were enough stops, and it was what we had to do, and I really liked how the guys responded defensively in a tough situation, and the crowd was once again special.”
The Cavaliers’ fans, in full voice for most of the game, fell silent at the 14:39 mark of the second half, a moment after Brogdon and Perrantes collided on defense. Perrantes fell to the court, where he lay as blood poured from his nose and onto his jersey.
“I just remember hitting heads,” Brogdon said. “I was trying to avoid him, and I’m sure he was trying to avoid me, but it was happening too fast. I felt bad, knowing that his nose was broken, because I knew he got the worst end of the deal, for sure.”
His forehead bleeding, Brogdon left the court to get stitches while head athletic trainer Ethan Saliba attended to Perrantes, still on the floor. After Perrantes was at last helped to his feet, Saliba walked with him into the tunnel.
“I knew after they collided that it was going to be bad,” Virginia senior Darion Atkins said. “So I was just hoping and praying it wasn’t going to be too bad. Thank God, Malcolm was able to come back out, and hopefully we get London back on the court pretty soon.”
Into the game, with UVa leading 31-28, came two reserve guards, redshirt freshman Devon Hall and freshman Marial Shayok.
“We both knew that we had to step up,” Shayok said. “That’s what Coach has been emphasizing all year, next man up, so we both came in prepared.”
Hall said: “You never know what’s going to happen. It was just a matter of us being ready and being able to step up and make plays.”
With its starting backcourt out of the game, UVa looked inside, and Atkins delivered, scoring on back-to-back possessions to push the lead to 35-30. The 6-8 senior, whose putback dunk had sent Virginia into halftime with a 22-21 lead, finished with 11 points and a career-high four steals.
“I thought Atkins made two big baskets,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Had he missed those, then things might have been different, but since he had the experience and made them they were able to get some points.”
At the 12:59 mark, Brogdon, a bandage on the right side of his forehead, re-entered the game to a thunderous ovation from the crowd.
“I figured he would be back,” Virginia big man Anthony Gill said, smiling. “He’s got a big head, and it’s very muscular, so I figured he would be back.”
Brogdon’s return buoyed the Cavaliers, but FSU refused to wilt. A 3-pointer by 6-4 freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes pulled the `Noles to 35-33, and they went ahead 37-36 on a jump hook by 6-9 sophomore Jarquez Smith with 10:32 left. But the left-handed Hall answered with a right-handed reverse layup on the next possession, and the `Hoos never trailed again.
Those were the only points for Hall, who also had an assist and a turnover before returning to the bench with 6:47 left. Shayok finished with seven points, a career-best six rebounds and one steal, along with three turnovers, in his 24 minutes.
“I thought he had a stretch defensively where he just deflected balls, got steals, used his length, and that was really important for us,” Bennett said of Shayok.
“I liked his aggressiveness, and he went up and snatched some rebounds when we needed it.”
In the final seven minutes, Virginia did not lead by more than five points until the 3:03 mark, when Brogdon spun free for a layup that made it 45-39. With 2:10 remaining, Gill hit two free throws to stretch UVa’s lead to 47-41.
Brogdon and Shayok then provided the coup de grace. After yet another missed 3-pointer by the `Noles, who were 4 for 19 from beyond the arc, Brogdon corralled the rebound and spotted Shayok alone across midcourt. One outlet pass later, Shayok drove in for an emphatic dunk that made it 49-41 with 75 seconds to play.
“I’m not a guy that takes chances like that, especially at the end of the game when it’s close, but I saw him wide open,” Brogdon said. “I was like, `I have to, and it’s Marial, he’s playing well. I’ve got to get him the ball.’ So I threw it up to him.”
Perrantes, a 6-2 sophomore, watched the final minutes from the bench. With 6:47 left, he’d come back through the tunnel, wearing jersey No. 43 instead of his customary No. 32 and holding gauze to his nose.
His status for Wednesday night, when Virginia plays at Wake Forest, isn’t clear, but his teammates proved Sunday that they could pull through without Perrantes, a two-year starter.
“It was a blue-collar affair, as we like to say,” Bennett said. “It was really a hard-fought game, and I know it wasn’t pretty, but you just had to do what you had to do, and the guys really rallied when they needed to.”
Rathan-Mayes (13 points) was the only player to score in double figures for Florida State. Only three of his points came in the second half.
“He made some tough shots the first half,” said Brogdon, who covered Rathan-Mayes for most of the game. “The second half it’s just about being more alert, closing out with your hands up and pressuring him more. For most players, that makes them uncomfortable.”
The Seminoles’ roster is loaded with tall, long-armed players, and their defense bothered Virginia. The Cavaliers, led by Atkins and Gill (13 points, nine rebounds, two steals), were effective inside, but they have not scored more than 61 points in a game since Anderson (13.4 ppg) broke his finger against Louisville.
It’s not for lack of work in practice, but his team is “not shooting it well,” Bennett acknowledged.
“It’s just where we’re at right now, and we just had to rest on our defense, and obviously we’re going to have keep probably getting better on that side of the ball, but I’m thankful for how the guys fought and came out with one with their defense. You can look at our offense, and we did struggle, but you can’t take it away from our guys defensively.”
Defensive gems have become the norm for the Cavaliers under Bennett, who came to Charlottesville in the spring of 2009 after three seasons as head coach at Washington State, where he compiled a 69-33 record.
At Virginia, he took over a team that won only 10 games in 2008-09. Under Bennett, the `Hoos finished 15-16 in 2009-10, 16-15 in 2010-11, 22-10 in 2011-12, 23-12 in 2012-13, and 30-7 last season, when they swept the ACC titles and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
Now, with four regular-season games and postseason play still to come, UVa has recorded at least 13 ACC victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
“It’s taken me probably longer than it should have,” Bennett said of reaching the 200-win mark, “but we’re in a good place this year, and we’ll keep plugging.”
UP NEXT: Three of the Cavaliers’ final four regular-season games are on the road, starting Wednesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. ACC leader Virginia (25-1, 13-1) takes on Wake Forest (12-15, 4-10) at 7 p.m.
The Demon Deacons, in their first season under head coach Danny Manning, have won their past three games at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
At JPJ on Feb. 14, the Cavaliers held off a late rally by Wake and prevailed 61-60.
UVa will try to end a perplexing streak Wednesday night. The `Hoos have dropped 10 straight games to Wake at Joel Coliseum since winning there on Jan. 30, 2000.