On a night when the ACC proved as topsy turvy as anything – Clemson nipped a red-hot Syracuse and bottom-dweller Miami knocked off Virginia Tech – would Virginia be able to exact revenge on a top-5 Florida State team seeking its best start in conference play in over 25 years?
A win, baby! Virginia got it’s first marquee win of the season, a Quadrant 1 win for NCAA tournament seeding purposes, by playing smothering defense (in the first half, 23 of the Seminoles’ 24 shots were contested), hitting some timely threes (it’s amazing how much easier the game is when you can actually make 3s), and going an uncharacteristic 20 – 23 from the free throw line.
Tomas Woldetensae. While he did not replicate his 3-point heroics from the Wake Forest game, Woldetensae did hit two early threes that helped Virginia dig out from an early 11 – 3 deficit. Earlier in the season I was charting Virginia’s 3-point shooting to see if we shot better from spot-ups or whether we improved when we first got penetration. There was very little noticeable difference; we were so bad it was of little matter how the ball got to the shooter. I’ve stopped doing that now, but Tomas proved yesterday just how important the drive and kick is to good three-point shooting: he got into the lane and fed Mamadi Diakite for two of his threes, as well as for the long two that was just a toenail away from being a fourth three. Woldetensae is not a Division I caliber point guard, but he can distribute the ball and he has good on-court vision.
Stomach Ulcers. Which is what Cavalier Nation must have been getting in the opening minutes of the game. FSU hit their first three shots, including a pair of 3s, and roared out to an 11 – 3 lead and were still comfortably ahead 14 - 8 at the 10 minute mark. Virginia missed their first four shots and had 3 turnovers by the first TV timeout. It did not bode well for the Cavaliers.
Braxton Key. The splint was off and the hand was just taped and Key was a man on a mission. He simply attacked the rim all night long. He still missed his share of bunnies, but he didn’t take any threes and after missing his first two free throws, he settled down to hit five straight, including a pair late in the second half to bring Virginia back within one point at 54 – 53. He had a monstrous block, 9 rebounds, and was a very capable secondary ball handler against an anemic Seminole press. He did cradle his hand in pain at one point, but the team has an entire week off before our next game vs Clemson.
17 turnovers. I guess this is the new normal for this iteration of Cavalier’s basketball. We can be very sloppy with the ball, and it’s not all on Kihei Clark (just four on the game.) The positive is that FSU, a team that can run, got only 9 points off these turnovers. My unheralded favorite highlight of the night was Woldetensae getting back on a Key TO and bodying the attacker and making FSU earn the points. After getting called out by the announcer during the Wake game for being an ineffectual defender defending the break, Tomas showed the hustle needed to win a game in the ACC.
Positive / Negative
Kihei Clark. Clark punished Florida State all night long off the dribble. Sometimes you can actually see players’ eyes go wide when they get the isolation they want, but Clark is Cali Cool for that, but he did hunt his shot – in the lane – at will all game long. The threat of Woldetensae’s shot did what we’ve all wanted it to do – it opened the lane – and Clark took advantage of it. Clark CAN beat a much taller opponent 1 v 1 when there is space, and he showed on this night. He struggles when the lane is clogged and he’s got players not only in front of him, but on the sides. There was none of that vs the Seminoles. It’s been a long time since Cavalier fans have watched a point guard who can do what Clark is doing now, and Tony Bennett is bringing in Reece Beekman next year, another point guard who can get into the paint.
On the minus column for Clark: his three point shot. Woof. Since quietly bringing his 3-point accuracy above 40% versus Syracuse, Clark has been dire from 3 going 0 – 13 over the past five games. He was hesitant to shoot from deep all night and his lack of confidence did him no favors as he went 0 – 4.
20 -23 from the charity stripe. Casey Morsell, a very good free throw shooter, buried his one attempt to complete the old-fashioned three. Woldetensae, who has not missed a FT on the season, buried his two. Clark was a perfect 7 – 7, the sixth time all season that he has made more than 5 free throws in a game. Diakite, en route to a 19 point night, was also perfect from the line: 4 – 4. On a night when a lot of things went well for the Cavaliers, the 13-point differential from the line sealed the victory.
The High Hedge. Seattle Hoo and I talked about this on our Super Tuesday podcast, but Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite ran the hedge to perfection. I’ve never been a fan of the hedge, reasoning that slowing an ACC-caliber point guard down a step is not going to disrupt the offense. But Leonard Hamilton must not care about PG play because he always uses combo guards, and on this night, the Florida State ball handlers couldn’t adjust. Diakite and Huff were also able to maintain contact, without being called for a foul, with the ball handler for an extra beat, sometimes two, to further disrupt the Seminole offense. Showing too early on the hedge can allow the ball handler to slip the hedge and then the defense breaks down, but on at least two occasions the screener, the ball handler, Clark and our big created a four-person scrum and the offense completely broke down. Even Francisco Caffaro is mastering the hedge because he was perfect. Those of us who love Jack Salt loved how his hedge play set the tone for the defense, but even on his best night, he wasn’t as nimble as Huff and Diakite were against the 'Noles.
Oh, yeah, Mamadi Diakite had a good night. 3 – 3 from beyond the arc, with a fourth three that was ruled a two. His block in the second half may have been the best play of the game, and he helped Virginia to a 36 – 23 rebounding advantage. 19 points. Not too shabby.