By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — When it arrived at the BankUnited Center on Monday night, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team was tied for second place in the ACC. The Cavaliers were in fourth place when they left.
They lost to a talented team determined to redeem itself after an embarrassing defeat in Chapel Hill, N.C. — 12th-ranked Miami — but that was little consolation for the third-ranked Wahoos (21-6 overall, 10-5 ACC).
“We fought and played pretty hard and had chances, but didn’t get it done,” head coach Tony Bennett said after his team’s 64-61 loss to Miami. “We left too many [points] out there.”
It was not a cheerful group that flew home to Charlottesville late Monday night. It was not an especially healthy one, either. Virginia’s next game is Saturday night, against seventh-ranked North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena, and whether sophomore Isaiah Wilkins or senior Evan Nolte will be available is uncertain.
The 6-8 Nolte, a key reserve, suffered a foot injury in practice Sunday and watched from the bench in street clothes Monday night. The 6-7 Wilkins, a starting forward, was accidentally kneed in the back of his head by 7-0, 248-pound Tonye Jekiri on a second-half lob attempt by the Hurricanes (22-5, 11-4).
Wilkins dropped to the court, and the game was stopped with 4:51 remaining. He lay there, holding his head, for several minutes before athletic trainer Ethan Saliba and teammate Jack Salt helped him to the bench. Wilkins totaled six rebounds, three points, one blocked shot and one steal in 29 minutes Monday night.
“Hopefully he’ll be OK,” Bennett said, “because we need his defensive prowess, and he’s been playing well for us.”
The game was Virginia’s first since Feb. 15. The Hurricanes had played Saturday afternoon, losing 96-71 at North Carolina.
“The way we lost to Carolina, we felt kind of embarrassed,” fifth-year senior guard Shelton McClellan said, “and we wanted to come back and respond the way we did tonight, whether we won by a lot or won by a little.”
Bennett said the `Canes “were going to come ready, and we knew that.”
This is Bennett’s seventh season with the Cavaliers. During his tenure, virtually all of Virginia’s games against Miami in this city have been memorable battles, and the latest was no exception.
The `Hoos, who trailed by 10 points three minutes into the second half, rallied to take a 48-47 lead on a layup by center Mike Tobey with 9:37 remaining. The `Canes pulled away again and, with three minutes left, led 60-52. But on a night when fifth-year senior Malcolm Brogdon matched his career high with 28 points, Virginia refused to capitulate.
Five straight points by the 6-5 Brogdon cut UVA’s deficit to three, and then junior point guard London Perrantes scored on a drive to make it 60-59.
After a Miami turnover, Virginia had a chance to regain the lead. But Tobey missed a point-blank layup with 39 seconds left and then committed his fifth foul while vying for the rebound.
With 36.4 seconds remaining, Miami made 1 of 2 free throws to push its lead to two. At that point, Brogdon was 8 for 8 from the floor in the second half, and the ball, as expected, went to him.
Brogdon put up a contested 3-pointer with 22 seconds left, and the `Canes, and their fans, held their collective breath.
“With the day he was having, I would have shot it too,” McClellan said. “He wasn’t missing.”
Alas for the Cavaliers, this Brogdon attempt missed its mark, and the `Canes grabbed the rebound.
“It was decent,” Brogdon said of his look. “It wasn’t great.”
Bennett said: “Maybe we could have gotten a better shot, but he was really feeling it.”
After Miami again went 1 for 2 from the line, making it 62-59, Virginia looked for a 3-pointer that would have tied the game. The Hurricanes blanketed Brogdon and played suffocating defense on the perimeter, however, and Perrantes settled for a layup that made it 62-61 with 4.7 seconds left.
“I wasn’t shooting the ball particularly well tonight, so I just wanted to get something,” Perrantes said. “So that’s all I could do.”
With 3.9 seconds left, UVA inbounded with a chance to force overtime, but Perrantes’ running 40-footer bounced off the backboard as the horn sounded. As Miami celebrated, the Cavaliers could only rue their breakdowns at both ends of the court.
The `Canes, led by junior Davon Reed, hit 10 of 19 shots from 3-point range. Reed came in having made 29 treys in 26 games. He made 5 of 6 shots from beyond the arc Monday night and finished with a career-high 21 points.
“As good as Malcolm Brogdon was, Davon was sensational as well,” said Miami head coach Jim Larranaga, a former Virginia assistant.
Bennett said: “You need that X-factor in games like this … You need someone else to step up, and [Reed] did that in this game.”
Virginia had no such player Monday night. Only three Cavaliers made at least half of their field-goal attempts: Brogdon (12 for 18), redshirt sophomore guard Darius Thompson (2 for 4), and freshman forward Jarred Reuter (1 for 1). The rest of the team was a combined 10 for 35.
Anthony Gill’s puzzling offensive slump continued. Gill, a 6-8 fifth-year senior, scored at least 10 points in each of Virginia’s first 22 games. In three of the past five, he’s contributed six points or fewer. Gill pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds Monday, but he missed 6 of 9 shots from the floor and finished with only six points.
Tobey struggled too. The 7-0 senior totaled only four points and three rebounds in his 16 minutes. Tobey was 0 for 2 from the line and missed two layups.
“A couple guys made some good passes,” Bennett said. “We just didn’t finish them when I thought we were there in the right spot. There were probably three of those that were crucial for us.”
Most disappointing to Brogdon were Virginia’s defensive lapses. The Hurricanes repeatedly penetrated UVA’s Pack-Line defense to get into the lane.
“What we lean on the most, I think failed us,” Brogdon said. “They were able to get to the rim when they wanted, and I think that was a 40-minute thing. We didn’t stop them in the second half like we should have, getting to the rim.”
Virginia could have defended some of the Hurricanes’ 3-pointers better, Brogdon said, “but we can live with those [shots]. It’s the buckets at the rim, the penetration, getting lifted and them going by us and getting to the rim, that’s what we can’t live with.
“I think we just have to keep working. This is a really good team we played, and everybody just has to get back to working on their craft and perfecting things.”
That Brogdon has worked tirelessly on his craft was evident again Monday night as he showed why he’s a candidate to be named ACC player of the year.
“He was really dominant,” Thompson said.
Brogdon did not attempt a free throw — Miami was called for only seven fouls in the game — but he displayed a dazzling array of shots, scoring on drives, on post-ups, on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and on midrange jumpers, a couple of the setback variety.
“I practice to be versatile,” Brogdon said. “I practice so when one thing is not working, when a team shuts down one thing, I’m able to do other things on the floor. I try not to be stopped.”
HOME STRETCH: Three regular-season games remain for Virginia, the first of which comes Saturday against ACC leader North Carolina at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers (21-6, 10-5) will host the seventh-ranked Tar Heels (22-5, 11-3) at 6:30 p.m.
UVA plays March 1 at Clemson and then closes the regular season March 5 against 11th-ranked Louisville at JPJ.
ESPN’s College GameDay show will be broadcast from JPJ on Saturday. College GameDay will air from 11 a.m. to noon, and then an evening edition of the show will lead into the game.
Admission and parking will be free Saturday morning for all fans attending College GameDay. Gates open at 9 a.m., and all seating at JPJ is general admission for the show.
The first 5,000 fans in attendance at JPJ will receive an official ESPN College GameDay T-shirt.
This will be College GameDay’s second visit to JPJ. The first was last season for UVA’s game against Duke, which rallied to win 69-63. The Cavaliers have won 18 straight games at JPJ since that defeat.