A Tale of Two Halves
It was the worst of halves, it was the best of halves. And that just about covers what I read of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in high school, so I'll have to drop that theme (and I have the famous opening line backwards anyway). But the point still stands.
Florida State whipped Virginia in the first half of Wednesday night's game at the Donald L. Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Florida. Leading by as many as eleven in the first half, the Noles entered the break with a ten point lead. From the Hoos' perspective, it looked like anything but Virginia basketball. While the score didn't necessarily reflect it, it felt like the Hoos largely played at Florida State's pace.
There was a distinct lack of comfort on the court from the Hoos. You saw this manifested mostly in the form of poor shooting and poor defense. The shooting on offense was uncharacteristically poor. UVA shot 9 for 26 (34.6%) from the field overall and 2 for 7 (28.6%) from three. Kyle Guy and Devon Hall were a combined 4 for 14 from the field and 2 for 6 from three.
The Noles, on the other hand, shot 11 for 23 (47.8%) from the field and 5 for 10 (50.0%) from the three. While their overall shooting percentage wasn't exceptional, it was still higher than you'd expect a Virginia defense to surrender. You couldn't help but wonder if the Noles had the winning formula for the night.
I always like to check the box score at halftime, especially if the opponent seemed to have a good first half shooting the ball, just to confirm my impression. When they do, like FSU did in this game, I always think that things are going to change in the second half. The defense will turn the screws, those jumpers will start to find the back of the rim or fall just short. In statistics, they call it regressing to the mean. It might have been a case of false confidence given the way things played out in the first half but the expectation was there. Could the offense respond just as well?
Coach Bennett wondered how his team would respond too. But he had a different, more rugged reaction to matters. He was quoted as saying that Florida State had punched his team in the mouth and that the initial response was a bit lacking. To come back and win this game would require some counter punches and the patented Pack Line Defense choke hold.
Both Coach Bennett and I got our wish in the second half.
Florida State's shooting proceeded to fall off of a cliff. The Noles shot 7 for 22 (31.8%) overall from the field and 1 for 10 (10.0%) from three in the second half. They didn't make a field goal over the last nine minutes plus of the game. Regression to the mean.
Similarly, the team rose to the challenge presented by Florida State and their home crowd. Less than five minutes into the half, the Hoos already had the lead down to three. A better effort in controlling the pace, defensive improvement, and better shooting was the formula that sparked the comeback. Maybe the taste of a little blood in their mouths from the punch delivered by Florida State served to get their attention too.
Whatever the ultimate cause, it kept the UVA within striking distance of Florida State until the choke hold was finally applied with nine minutes to go. From that point forward, it was largely academic. Florida State still managed another eight points from the foul line. But it wasn't enough. The Hoos countered with clutch shot after clutch shot.
De'Andre Hunter follow dunk and no worry free throws, check. Devon Hall and Mamadi Diakite no worry free throws, check. A Zay jumper and clinching post basket, check. And what game would be complete with yet another Ty Jerome howitzer blast? Check. Another ACC win in the books, check.
As alarming as the first half was, the second half delivered vintage Tony Bennett era UVA basketball.
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