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ACC Men’s Basketball: Cavaliers now talk of ACC with win over Wolfpack
BY NATHAN WARTERS
THE FREE LANCE–STAR
THE FREE LANCE–STAR
CHARLOTTESVILLE—Virginia senior guard Jontel Evans admits it’s too early to be talking about the NCAA tournament, but he couldn’t deny the significance of the Cavaliers’ gritty 58–55 win over No. 19 N.C. State on Tuesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
“We’re building on something special, and hopefully that leads to the tournament,” said Evans, who scored the clinching points on a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining. “I feel like if we continue to play like we’ve been playing, then we should be able to make it.”
The Cavaliers (15–5, 5–2) have won four straight and sit alone at second place in the ACC standings. That’s a far cry from late December, when doubts crept in after a head-scratching loss to Old Dominion.
Virginia has ratcheted up its defensive intensity and received critical contributions from the likes of freshmen Justin Anderson, Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey to move into contention in the ACC.
“We’re a team that’s heading for something very special,” Evans said. “Guys have bought into the system and are playing at a very high level. But coach [Tony] Bennett always says you’ve got to be hungry and be humble.
“This was a great win tonight, but we’ve got to go to Georgia Tech [on Sunday] hungry.”
The Wolfpack (16–5, 5–3) boasts the top offense in the ACC, but U.Va. and its ACC-leading defense held it to fewer than 60 points for only the third time this season.
Part of N.C. State’s problem was a lack of a steady point guard for the final 30 minutes. Freshmen Tyler Lewis and Rodney Purvis saw an increase in minutes after junior Lorenzo Brown went down with a left ankle injury midway through the first half and didn’t return.
“I am very aware that they lost perhaps the best guard in the league in Brown, and that was to our benefit,” Bennett said. “We still had to make plays, and we persevered.”
The Wolfpack shot only 37.7 percent in the game—34.8 percent in the second half—and turned the ball over 14 times. Junior forward C.J. Leslie, who started the game on the bench because of an illness, had 20 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, but he also had seven turnovers.
Virginia, which trailed by 11 late in the first half, made 44.4 percent of its shots after halftime to forge the comeback.
“We didn’t execute nearly as well as we should have late in the game, and we also had some opportunities where we had the ball right around the rim,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “We just couldn’t seem to score it. That was tough.”
Cavaliers guard Joe Harris scored a game-high 22 points, his career-high in ACC play, to spark the second-half offensive surge. Forward Akil Mitchell had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Tobey had 13 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
Virginia outscored N.C. State 14–6 to open the second half. Tobey provided seven points during that stretch, including back-to-back jumpers to give the Cavaliers their first lead of the game, 38–37, with 12:38 remaining.
The Wolfpack took a 49–45 advantage on forward Richard Howell’s driving layup with 7:14 left, but the Cavaliers responded with seven straight points and went ahead 52–49 on three free throws by Harris.
It was during this mini-run that Anderson, a Westmoreland County native, ran down N.C. State forward T.J. Warren on a breakaway and came up with a dunk-saving swat from behind.
“Big block. He’s capable of making those, and that was significant,” Bennett said of Anderson.
Virginia took its final lead, 56–54, on Mitchell’s jumper with 3:52 left on the clock, and the Cavaliers held on for their first win over a ranked ACC team since taking down No. 18 Georgia Tech, 82–75, on Jan. 13, 2010.
The Cavaliers are now 3–0 this season against teams in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index and 5–0 against teams in the top 100. They still have work to do to make the NCAA tournament, but they’re in the conversation now thanks to a big home victory.
“It was definitely a big one for us because we had a couple of tough losses earlier in the year,” Tobey said. “We needed to get this big win.”
NC STATE (16-5)
Howell 5-10 2-2 12, Wood 3-10 0-0 9, Warren 1-7 1-2 3, Purvis 2-7 0-0 6, Brown 1-3 0-0 2, Leslie 7-13 6-9 20, T. Lewis 1-3 0-0 3, Vandenberg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-53 9-13 55.
Nolte 1-5 0-0 3, Mitchell 6-12 2-3 14, Evans 1-4 2-5 4, Jesperson 0-4 0-0 0, Harris 7-15 5-6 22, Browman 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Tobey 6-10 1-1 13, Anderson 1-3 0-0 2, Atkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-54 10-15 58.
Halftime—NC State 31-24. 3-Point Goals—NC State 6-15 (Wood 3-8, Purvis 2-4, T. Lewis 1-2, Brown 0-1), Virginia 4-16 (Harris 3-8, Nolte 1-4, Jones 0-1, Jesperson 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—NC State 38 (Leslie 14), Virginia 33 (Mitchell 12). Assists—NC State 10 (Howell 6), Virginia 13 (Evans 7). Total Fouls—NC State 12, Virginia 14. A—10,977.
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442