Saturday was a day rife with opportunity for the Virginia Men's Basketball program. It's the rare day in modern college basketball where a program essentially has a day to itself, featured for the entire nation.
The morning and lunch hours on the East Coast promoted UVA Basketball and JPJ on College Game Day, broadcast live on ESPN from Charlottesville.
The afternoon hours saw UVA Basketball mentioned every time the topic of college basketball's top team or the polls were mentioned. A win Saturday night all but guaranteed UVA would claim the top spot in Monday's AP and Coaches Polls. A win Saturday night would also all but guarantee tacit acknowledgement throughout the greater college basketball world that the Hoos were indeed the top team in the nation.
Then we had the game itself beginning around the dinner hour for the East Coast. The eyes of the nation would be on the Hoos. All the pieces seemed to be in place for a coronation. The game started and the teams traded three pointers initially with UVA staking itself to an early 6 to 3 lead. The lead ballooned to 13 to 5 and the coronation appeared to be on track. The Hoos were taking advantage of the major opportunity afforded them.
Virginia Tech took a timeout with the score 13 to 5. We know what happened from there. Both Seattle Hoo and StLouHoo did a great job summarizing what happened in the game and breaking down the technical aspects of the one point overtime loss. You can read those here.
Seattle Hoo - Bloody Discharge from the Brain of Seattle Hoo
StLouHoo - Digesting the VT Loss
And while the Hoos missed their opportunity Saturday night on a macro level, there were several other opportunities throughout the course of the second half and overtime that would have afforded UVA an imperfect victory, but a victory nonetheless. An unsatisfying win is still the preference when the other options are all losses.
Battling Back - Seizing Momentum
The first of those opportunities came with the scored tied at 35. UVA trailed 33 to 26 at halftime and then 35 to 26 fifteen seconds into the second half. After a Devon Hall three tied the game at 35, UVA got a stop and had the ball with a chance to take the lead. Had they done so, it was very possible that they would have seized the momentum in the game and began their methodical strangling of the Hokies. On the next trip down the court, Devon Hall takes a pass from Ty Jerome in front of the UVA bench. He dribbles baseline, drawing a double team from VT. Hall spots Isaiah Wilkins on the elbow and delivers the pass leaving Zay covered one on one by Justin Bibbs. Zay backs down Bibbs right in front of the restricted area and attempts a quick jump hook. The shot bounces from the left side of the rim, off the backboard, and into the hands of Kerry Blackshear.
Devon Hall forces a difficult runner in the lane by Nickeil Alexander-Walker who then commits a foul, pushing Kyle Guy in the back on the rebound attempt. This triggers the under sixteen official timeout. After the stoppage, UVA has the ball again with another chance to surge ahead and solidify its momentum. On the ensuing trip down the court, Ty Jerome draws the front of the rim on a NBA distance three point attempt with fifteen seconds remaining on the shot clock. Zay has offensive rebounding position, but the short shot comes off the front of the rim at an odd angles and caroms out of bounds off of Zay's left arm.
Virginia Tech has now strung together two critical stops. They use a high ball screen from Kerry Blackshear that Jack Salt is able to hedge off allowing Kyle Guy to regain defensive position just to the left of the top of the key. Justin Robinson responds with a nasty fake crossover, jab step, step back move that leaves Guy stumbling backwards just behind the free throw line. Guy is unable to recover in time and Robinson rattles in a three from the top of the key.
Virginia Tech regains the lead at 38 to 35, fully taking advantage of UVA's inability to cash in on two opportunities to take an early second half lead and fully capture momentum.
The Hoos do respond with a Kyle Guy three on the very next possession to tie the game again at 38 with 13:52 remaining in the game but they do not score again for another six minutes and five seconds (7:47 remaining in the game).
In a game where the score was tied at 49 after regulation, I use the term surge loosely but in the context of this game it certainly felt that way.
With 5:22 left in the game, Mamadi Diakite gets an easy dunk off of a beautiful play where De'Andre Hunter sees Zay flash open on the baseline from a couple steps behind the three point line at the top of the key. Kerry Blackshear abandons Diakite in the heat of the moment crashing down hard to prevent a shot from Wilkins. Zay drops a nice touch bounce pass around Blackshear that lands perfectly in front of Diakite. Mamadi slams it home to give UVA a 45 to 43 lead.
Diakite's dunk comes on the heels of a sequence where De'Andre Hunter's three gave UVA a 43 to 42 lead but then saw Virginia Tech take the lead right back on a circus shot in the lane from Justin Robinson. Robinson, driving down the right side of the lane with his right hand jumped into the air and flipped a left handed shot away from his body and over Ty Jerome. Robinson is a lefty, so he was more comfortable than normal in attempting this shot. The ball banks high off of the glass before bouncing on the rim three times before falling through the net. The lucky bounces cause Jerome to throw his hands up in exasperation before taking the ball out. Robinson's shot isn't the first time a rim has been kind to the Hokies in a close game in the series in recent years (see London Perrantes, dead ball on rim, 2017).
Diakite's dunk causes the crowd to erupt. Hunter and Diakite play great ball screen defense against Robinson and Blackshear, forcing a desperation pass from Robinson to Chris Clarke. It's a horrible read by Robinson who is attempting to hit Clarke across the court in the far corner with less than five seconds left on the shot clock. Wilkins reads the pass perfectly and steals it. He quickly gets the ball to Kyle Guy who advances it into the offensive zone allowing the Hoos to set their offense with more than twenty five seconds on the shot clock.
UVA has the ball, up one, with 4:42 to go. Again, the Hoos have a chance to solidify control of the game.
Hunter finds Wilkin posting up Clarke on the block in front of the UVA bench with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. Blackshear is stationed in the middle of the lane with his feet on the restricted area line. Wilkins easily backs Clarke into the middle of the lane. He gets himself comfortable before faking Clarke to his right. The fake allows Zay enough separation to attempt an uncontested jump hook with his right hand.
Foreshadowing that it probably wasn't the Hoos' night, Zay's shot lands on the front of the rim before skipping softly off the back of the rim onto the front of the rim again. So much for home rim bounces as the ball falls harmlessly off the rim into Chris Clarke's waiting hands.
The next trip down the court sees the Hokies cash in a three point play when Justin Bibbs' corner three misses but Kerry Blackshear is able to grab the offensive rebound while discarding Diakite who didn't do a great job of blocking out. Ty Jerome is then whistled for the foul by Roger Ayers who is twenty five feet away from the play and shielded from a view of the action by Wilkins, Blackshear, and Jerome's bodies. Ty does not make contact with Blackshear but he does swipe at Blackshear which is nearly an automatic foul call from the officials whether or not a foul is actually committed. Jerome should know better.
We take the under four minute official timeout here. When the game returns to action, Blackshear makes his free throw to complete the three point play and gives Virginia Tech a 47 to 45 lead.
Once again, UVA misses an opportunity to take control of the game during this surge.
A Shot for Victory
The Hokies are able to extend their lead to four, 49 to 45 before UVA rallies once again. The Hoos manage to tie the game at 49 on the strength of a Ty Jerome elbow jumper with twelve seconds left after Robinson misses the front end of a one and one. On the ensuing possession, Justin Robinson slips on a drive into the lane, turning the ball over on the travel call.
What seemed like an improbable victory now almost seems like it's the Hoos' destiny. With 4.2 seconds remaining, Ty Jerome gets off a howitzer blast from deep that hits off the right side of the rim for the miss. You can tell from the players' reactions, both on the court and bench for UVA, everyone expected the shot to go in.
Instead, another wasted opportunity, and the game heads to overtime.
Two Chances to Ice
With 30 seconds left in overtime, UVA leads 59 to 56. Devon Hall heads to the line for a one and one opportunity. He leads the ACC in free throw shooting percentage. The first shot is good. 60 to 56. A make all but wraps it up. Hall misses.
Virginia Tech responds with a successful three point shot from Alexander-Walker. UVA still leads 60 to 59 with twenty two seconds to go.
Again, Virginia Tech fouls Devon Hall. Hall heads to the free throw line again with a one and one opportunity. UVA leads by one and there are thirteen seconds remaining. Another chance to likely, but not definitely, ice the game. UVA fans still have to like their chances, however. Hall misses the front end. We know how the rest turns out.
The loss itself was painful enough given the opponent and the way the game played out. However, the more substantial let down was felt in feeling the number one ranking in the polls slip through the Hoos' fingers. As everyone knew, a win all but guaranteed the first number one ranking for UVA Men's Basketball in the polls since December 1982. Not accomplishing that felt like a significant letdown.
Then a funny thing happened. The AP Poll came out Monday at noon, and wouldn't you know it....
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