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Wahoos Whipped Again At The End Of The Game As They Fall To Wolfpack

Game Highlights

It's ironic the 'Hoos won their national championship by closing out some of the most exciting, pressure-filled games in NCAA tournament history.

Because less than a year later, in ordinary January home games against competition that is less than elite, it seems as if they can't close out anything.

On Monday, for the fourth time in five ACC games, Virginia (12-6, 4-4) held a lead in the second half but fell, this time 53-51 to the Wolfpack (14-5, 5-3) in what is the latest disappointing result in a season that has grown increasingly frustrating for players and fans alike.

This newest addition to the Championship Hangover Chronicles saw UVa down 42-31 with 13:51 left after a C.J. Bryce 3-pointer. Then, a lineup consisting mostly of Kihei Clark, Casey Morsell, Kody Stattmann, Mamadi Diakite, and Francisco Caffaro brought the 'Hoos all the way back.

Caffaro, used sparingly since breaking out against North Carolina on Dec. 8, was a spark on offense and defense -- he scored right after entering and collected six points total. He battled with D.J. Funderburk down low, and even fouled State's big man out with 6:48 left, thanks in part to Funderburk's idiotic move of grabbing Caffaro's injured thumb multiple times, drawing a shove from Caffaro. The referees were privy to Funderburk's antics, so they assessed double technicals. That was a big moment because Funderburk led all scorers with 14 points and was especially potent in the first half when he had 12 points and went 5 for 5 from the field.

"A highlight was how Papi [Francisco Caffaro] played and Casey, I thought those two guys gave us some nice lifts today," Tony Bennett said. "I think where we lost the game -- we missed some pretty close ones, bunnies, had some unfortunate turnovers -- but I think the start of the second half for us defensively, was not a good start. Good offense by them, they made some tough shots, but our defense was not where it needed to be. And then, as down as it was, then it turned and got right. Papi came in, and I thought he did a really good job on ball-screen defense, bouncing guys out. Got some tough finishes, made his free throws. Papi brought a physicality."

Morsell, meanwhile, played 32 minutes in his most action since the Virginia Tech game Jan. 4, scored nine points and made the 3-pointer that finished erasing the 11-point deficit and put UVa up, 44-42. Caffaro added a layup while getting fouled but missed the free throw, giving the Cavaliers a 46-42 edge with 4:37 left.

"I thought he guarded hard. He made a couple of tough shots," Bennett said of Morsell. "... A lot of guys are ... getting thrown into the fire. It's challenging, but it's the best thing for their games and their future if they can withstand it. That's why the message is, 'Keep locking in.' Now, we are trying to get it done and win games, but I know this will produce some fruit later on, and it's a little bit of a painful process. I like how Casey responded."

Just like we all expected going into this game: Caffaro and Casey as MVPs.

But what happened next has become all too familiar for this Virginia team. The Wolfpack finished the game on an 11-5 run on its way to its first win in Charlottesville since 2005 and its first victory in the series in eight games. UVa held N.C. State scoreless for more than 10 minutes in the second half, yet State still scored on an unbelievable pace in the closing minutes. The recipe this time? A pair of 3-pointers by Jericole Hellems and Markell Johnson, a layup by Hellems off of an offensive rebound when Diakite failed to box him out, and a jumper by C.J. Bryce.

"I think they were contested," Bennett said, trying to recall the defense on the 3s. "They were scrambling. We were working. They couldn't get to the lane. They made a couple of plays. That's what you have to do down the stretch to win when it gets to that time. Someone's gotta jump up and make some big plays and score a bucket or two, and they did that."

UVa had chances to extend its lead or get it back. Up 46-42, Morsell took a long 2-point jumper that he airballed. He had a pretty good game, so you can't fault him for taking the shot too much, but still, the shot wasn't within the flow of the offense.

After Hellems' 3, Virginia was up 46-45, and Diakite went to the line and only made 1 of 2. That meant that Johnson's 3 on State's next possession gave the Wolfies the lead, rather than just tying the game.

Down 48-47, Morsell took a 3 with the shot clock winding down that was an OK look, but let's face it, multiple made 3s in one game from Morsell just isn't a thing that's happening right now. The rebound went to Clark, though, so UVa got another chance. But Clark took the ball down the lane after a few seconds and flipped a high shot over a defender and off the backboard and rim. Not the best look.

Thanks to State going 1 for its last 4 at the line, UVa still had two final chances to win or tie the game.

Jay Huff got a good look at the top of the key for 3 to tie the game with 15 seconds left but clanged the attempt. On the next possession, State intentionally fouled Clark to prevent him from taking a 3-pointer, and he made both free throws to cut the lead to 52-51. After Devon Daniels went 1 for 2, Morsell gathered the rebound with plenty of time left, was able to get down the floor, but then got hemmed in on the sideline by a couple of State defenders and had to sort of heave a 3 at the buzzer that ended up just grazing the rim.

The game was not without controversy. After Hellems' putback, UVa was down 50-47 but still had a victory within reach. On a pick-and-roll, Clark found Caffaro down low, who appeared to get fouled once, maybe twice, from the front and back. He missed the shot, and the ball landed out of bounds as the shot clock expired. After a review, the refs put one second back up, and UVa was able to run an inbounds play, but Diakite didn't even get his 3-pointer off in time according to the refs. Bennett had a point -- it looked like an awfully quick second -- but Diakite missed the shot anyway. The whistle for the shot clock violation did, however, affect the ability of the Cavaliers to grab the offensive rebound. Bryce then went down and made a really tough jumper, making the score 52-47. After a pair of Clark free throws, the final sequence of missed free throws by State and missed shots by Virginia unfolded.

The other noncall that had Virginia fans up in arms came at the 14-minute mark of the second half. The 'Hoos had a fast break after a block by Diakite. Clark found Morsell charging toward the rim, and the freshman went up strong and got body-blocked by Hellems. No call. Anyone else noticing how we seem to be pointing out more ref errors this season? I'm not a fan of the bellyaching, BUT I'm seeing these plays, too, and some are tough to swallow. The reffing doesn't matter as much when you're blowing teams out versus losing by a few points. The zebras begin to stand out.

Clark was the team's only double-digit scorer with 10 points on just 3-of-9 shooting, and he added seven rebounds and five assists. He had three turnovers, and Virginia had just 10, with most coming in the first half. Diakite finished with eight points, seven rebounds, and three blocks. Huff had eight points, four rebounds, and two blocks.

Bennett pointed to the turnovers in the first half as a big factor in the outcome.

"The first half, they had 10 points off of turnovers," he said."That's hard for us to absorb. You look at it -- we shot 36 percent for the game, and 25 [percent] from 3, and we still have a chance. Your margin of error shrinks even more with [that shooting]. So then those live-ball turnovers -- like pick 6s -- they lead to 10 points in the first half. It was better in the second half, for sure. And then again, if you have bad lapses defensively for stretches, that's enough [to lose]. We found a way ... to at least get the lead, but [we] certainly have some growing pains."

Indeed, it was another lackluster shooting night for the 'Hoos, who made just 3 of their 12 3s, while the Wolfpack made 5 of 16. Other than Casey's triple, Diakite and Huff made one each.

"We got pretty good looks. ... We're trying to get some baskets off turnovers, go into the lane, score in the paint, or at least touch the paint," Bennett said. "You still gotta shoot them when they're there. It's hard as I said, that's where your margin of error shrinks, when you look at our shooting percentages. You have to be so right in those other areas."

Braxton Key had eight points and eight rebounds, but his usage drew some questions from UVa fans on social media. The senior did all of his scoring in the first half, and didn't play from the 11:27 to :26 marks in the second half, finishing at 27 minutes on the night. It seems like it would've been wise for Bennett to have put him back in sooner. This was not addressed in the postgame presser.

Though the setbacks are mounting, Bennett is striving for the team to use what it's going through to grow.

"It's a tremendous opportunity to lead, teach, and try to improve," Bennett said. I think we're improving in little ways, but it's not showing in the win-loss column. ... Say what you want, every ACC game we've lost, we could've won. We've had chances. You're close, maybe not as close as it feels like. ... I'm trying to be hopeful that we're gonna stick a few of those, but we'll keep plugging."

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