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ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament: Cavs’ fate up for grabs

VIRGINIA’S NCAA HOPES ARE IN JEOPARDY AFTER LOSS TO WOLFPACK

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

ATLANTA—Sammy Zeglinski sat inside his locker room stall at Philips Arena with both hands covering his face.

Mike Scott’s voice barely rose above a whisper as he pondered what happened moments earlier.

The two Virginia fifth-year senior basketball players were in a sour mood following Friday’s 67–64 loss to N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals.

Now they have to wonder if they’ll qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in their careers.

“We just turned it on too late,” Scott said of what caused the fourth-seeded Cavaliers to fall to No. 5 N.C. State. “We had defensive breakdowns. We missed some shots. We took bad shots. It was like a snowball effect. It kept getting worse.”

The Cavaliers (22–9) hope things get a lot better on Sunday.

That’s when the NCAA selection committee will announce the 68 teams that will participate in the tournament. The Cavaliers could’ve earned an automatic bid by winning the ACC tournament.

Instead, they’ll gather on Sunday and await their fate.

“You look at the body of work and hopefully we’re in good shape,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said. “We’re just going to wait, and hope we’ve shown enough and competed. Hopefully we’ll be one of the fortunate ones.”

The loss to N.C. State (21–11) kept the Cavaliers out of the ACC tournament semifinals for the 17th straight year. Virginia is 2–13 all-time against the Wolfpack in the conference tournament.

N.C. State sophomore forward C. J. Leslie proved difficult for the Cavaliers to handle on Friday. He scored 19 points and pulled down 14 rebounds as the Wolfpack increased their own NCAA tournament hopes.

They play top-seeded North Carolina Saturday in the ACC tournament semifinals.

“We did what the committee asked us to do,” first-year coach Mark Gottfried said. “We scheduled hard, tough This team pretty much from start to finish has played well and been in a position, even early, to win a lot of games.”

N.C. State was in that position Friday because it shot 54 percent from the floor, higher than any Virginia opponent this season.

Cavaliers’ junior point guard Jontel Evans said the Wolfpack “were getting whatever they wanted on the offensive end,” and “we didn’t make them work at all.”

“They were more aggressive than us,” Evans said. “It wasn’t our brand of basketball.”

Scott paced the Cavaliers with 23 points and 10 rebounds, but shot just 9 of 23 from the floor. Sophomore guard Joe Harris added 18 points, while forward Akil Mitchell contributed 10 points and 12 rebounds.

The Cavaliers had chances to pull out a victory. They fell behind by nine points with 6:08 left in the game, but rallied to pull within two.

They trailed 65–62 when Harris launched a deep 3-pointer that would’ve tied the game with 12 seconds left. But he misfired and N.C. State guard Lorenzo Brown (15 points, eight assists) made two free throws with seven seconds remaining to seal the victory.

“I was happy with the look,” Harris said of his final attempt. “I had my eyes on the rim and my feet set. I might’ve rushed it a little bit. It just came up a little bit short.”

The Cavaliers are hoping the selection committee doesn’t feel their résumé comes up short, as well. Zeglinski said he knows NCAA tournament guru Joe Lunardi because they’re both from Philadelphia. Lunardi, who works for ESPN, has said the Cavaliers are a lock to be included in the field.

“He’s not really ever wrong,” Zeglinski said. “Hopefully, the feeling we’re feeling now will go away, and we’re feeling a lot better on Sunday.”

    N.C. STATE (22–11)

    Howell 5-10 0-2 10, Leslie 9-11 1-5 19, Wood 2-6 2-3 8, Brown 4-5 5-8 15, Williams 3-8 0-0 6, Painter 2-4 0-0 4, A. Johnson 2-6 0-0 5. Totals 27-50 8-18 67.

    VIRGINIA (22–9)

    Scott 9-23 5-7 23, Ak. Mitchell 4-4 2-2 10, Evans 4-11 1-1 9, Harris 4-9 8-10 18, Zeglinski 2-5 0-0 4, Jesperson 0-1 0-0 0, Atkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-53 16-20 64.

    Halftime—N.C. State 36-33. 3-Point Goals—N.C. State 5-15 (Brown 2-2, Wood 2-6, A. Johnson 1-4, Williams 0-3), Virginia 2-12 (Harris 2-5, Scott 0-1, Jesperson 0-1, Evans 0-2, Zeglinski 0-3). Fouled Out—Harris. Rebounds—N.C. State 28 (Leslie 14), Virginia 35 (Ak. Mitchell 12). Assists—N.C. State 18 (Brown 8), Virginia 10 (Evans 4). Total Fouls—N.C .State 16, Virginia 16. A—19,520.

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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