By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Darius Thompson never saw his shot glance off the backboard and drop through the net. No matter. His teammates’ reaction told the redshirt sophomore all he needed to know after the final horn sounded at Wake Forest’s Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
“I fell on the ground, and I happened to look over and see all my teammates running at me, jumping up and down,” Thompson said.
Virginia collected its first ACC road victory Tuesday night, and even those who witnessed the dramatic ending had trouble believing it really occurred.
“Deep down inside, if I’m going to be honest, you’re like, `This isn’t happening,’ ” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said.
“That was a special thing we just did there,” fifth-year senior Anthony Gill said.
With 1:23 to play, the 11th-ranked Cavaliers trailed 64-54, and their fate appeared sealed. But in a stunning rally, they scored 18 points in the final 1:16 to win 72-71. The final three came on an off-balance 21-footer by the 6-4 Thompson, whose last-second shot somehow cleared the outstretched left arm of 6-9 Devin Thomas.
“That was surreal,” said UVA guard Malcolm Brogdon, who matched his career high with 28 points. “I didn’t know what to think at the end.”
The Demon Deacons (10-10, 1-7) dominated most of the game and had every opportunity to put away the `Hoos (16-4, 5-3). But Wake missed seven free throws in the final 65 seconds, lapses on which Virginia happily capitalized.
“Our guys, credit to them, they showed fight in that setting,” Bennett said, “and they were saying stuff in the huddle: `Let’s keep trying. You never know. You never know.’ ”
UVA led only three times in this game, for a total of 46 seconds: at 4-2, 18-17 and 72-71. Still, even when their prospects appeared bleak, the Cavaliers continued to battle — and to believe.
With about 30 seconds left, “Malcolm looked at me and he said, `This game’s not over,’ ” said Gill, who scored 17 points before fouling out with 39 seconds remaining. “And I looked right back at him and I said, `You’re right, we have a lot of game left.’ ”
Virginia made its final three shots from the floor, all 3-pointers. The first, by sophomore swingman Marial Shayok, pulled the Cavaliers to 70-66 with 14.5 seconds left.
The second, by Brogdon, made it 70-69 with 4.7 seconds left. The third, by Thompson, came on his only shot of the game. The trey was his first since Virginia’s Dec. 22 win over California.
“I was trying to get a foul call [on Thomas] at first,” Thompson said, “but didn’t get the foul call. I threw it up, and it happened to go off the backboard and went in.”
After Brogdon’s last 3-pointer, the Cavaliers fouled Wake point guard Bryant Crawford on the inbounds pass, and the clock stopped with 3.1 seconds to play. After checking the video monitor, however, the officials added nine-tenths of a second to the clock.
“We needed all that time,” Bennett said.
Brogdon said: “It was huge, because for every second as a basketball player, you’re processing how many dribbles you can get within that time. And that’s three dribbles and then a shot.
“If they had put three seconds on there, it would have been two dribbles and a shot, and we wouldn’t have been able to get basically to the 3-point line where Darius was.”
Crawford, who had missed a pair of foul shots at the 1:05 mark, misfired again on his first attempt. He made his second, after which Virginia point guard London Perrantes looked for his first option, Brogdon, on the inbounds pass.
But the Deacons blanketed Brogdon, and so Perrantes passed instead to redshirt sophomore guard Devon Hall near midcourt. Hall turned and dribbled along the left sideline before passing ahead to Thompson on the left wing.
“Devon made a great pass, and Darius made an amazing shot,” Brogdon said.
Thompson’s buzzer-beater silenced Wake’s fans and momentarily stunned Hall.
“I was like, `Did that really just go in, and did that count?’ ” Hall said, smiling. “That was an outrageous shot.”
Bennett has been on the other end of such comebacks, he reminded media members at his postgame press conference, and he expressed sympathy for his counterpart, Danny Manning, and Wake’s players.
“We were very fortunate,” Bennett said. “Wake Forest really outplayed us.”
The Deacons picked apart UVA’s defense. They shot 57.1 percent from the floor in the second half, when they were 6 for 9 on 3-pointers, and 53.5 percent for the game. So frustrated was Bennett by his team’s second-half defensive breakdowns that during one stretch he scrapped his trademark man-to-man in favor of a 1-2-2 zone.
“That shows you how desperate we were and how poor our defense was,” Bennett said. “But actually it helped us.”
Gill said: “We’ve been working on [the zone] every now and then in practice. But it was shocking. When [Bennett] said that, we all kind of looked at each other, and then we were just like, `All right, let’s go out here and do it.’ Whatever he calls, we trust it 100 percent and we’re going to be full force with it.”
On a night when Perrantes made only 2 of 8 shots and Hall went scoreless, Shayok and senior forward Evan Nolte made important contributions off the bench for UVA.
Shayok was 2 for 2 from long range and finished with 10 points, his most since a Nov. 25 win over Lehigh. Nolte, who had not made a field goal since Virginia’s Dec. 5 win over William & Mary, was 2 for 4 from the floor.
“Marial hadn’t been playing and Evan hadn’t been playing much,” Bennett said, “and we put them in, and they got some opportunities, and they did some good things.”
Thompson, a transfer from Tennessee, started 10 of Virginia’s first 14 games this season, but he’s been struggling recently, too.
“Maybe this’ll be a boost,” Bennett said.
The Cavaliers hope the long-awaited ACC road win has that effect on them, too.
“We’ve got to improve,” Bennett said. “We’ll take the win. The quality wasn’t there the way we need it to be, but it did I guess get the monkey off our back as far as a road win in the conference.”
Had the comeback fallen short, Gill said, “it would have been really upsetting, because we made a lot of mistakes. We kind of let ourselves down in that game. But we overcame them and moved on, and we kept fighting throughout the whole game.”
Perrantes said: “Better late than never. It was tough, but it shows the fight in the guys we have, and the character of our guys. We never quit.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Virginia travels to Kentucky this weekend for a showdown with No. 16 Louisville (16-3, 5-1) at the KFC Yum! Center. CBS will televise the 1 p.m. game Saturday.
The Cavaliers split their two regular-season games with the Cardinals in 2014-15. The teams will meet at JPJ in the March 5 regular-season finale.
Louisville plays at Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.