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Nope, Not This Time 'Noles -- Wahoos Take Down No. 5 Florida State For Season's Biggest Win

Game Highlights

In Tallahassee on Jan. 15, Virginia led Florida State 47-44 with 3:11 to play. The Seminoles closed the game on a 10-3 run to win by four and deny the Wahoos a huge ACC road win over a top-10 team.

In Charlottesville on Tuesday, FSU led UVa 56-53 with 2:13 remaining. The Cavaliers closed the contest on an 8-0 run to snag an NCAA tournament resume-building top-five ACC win, 61-56.

The Wahoos' late-game struggles with leads have been well-documented. But Virginia (14-6, 6-4) flipped the script at John Paul Jones Arena, thanks to Kihei Clark's amazing poise and quickness down the stretch, a strong finish from Jay Huff, and timely and ginormous 3s from Mamadi Diakite.

"It comes down to making plays," Tony Bennett said. "Tonight we did that. We did it with a couple of big stops and making free throws. That was a hard-fought game. Those young men, they've been battling. They've been close in a lot of them. [Florida State's] a heckuva team. I like what I saw, so we'll take that and move on."

After getting a stop, Virginia was down 56-55 with about a minute left. Clark ran a pick-and-roll with Huff. The Seminoles (17-3, 7-2) switch on every screen, so that left 6-foot-9 Malik Osborne on the 5-foot-9 Clark. Clark took him off the dribble down into the paint, blew past him, and -- kamikaze-style (Seattle Hoo's description) -- went up and under, using the rim and backboard as a shield from a possible block, contorting his body tightly and quickly to spin the ball deftly off the backboard and through the hoop.

"When I got the big switched on me, I used my quickness to my advantage," Clark said. "That was the game plan -- late game, we kinda just wanted to space it and play off two [feet], try to get our shooters open shots on backdoors and slides. They stuck with the shooters, so I went in and tried to make a play."

Added Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton of Clark: "He might be small in stature, but he has the biggest heart in the ACC."

On the other end, Devin Vassell, the Seminoles' only double-figure scorer with 17, had a pretty good look in the lane after shaking free from Diakite, but his jumper was off-balance and went bouncing off of the rim. Diakite made two free throws, and then the Cavaliers had to withstand one more offensive possession by FSU. Wyatt Wilkes' 3 only found the backboard, and then Trent Forrest got a really good -- uncomfortably good, for me -- look off of the rebound, but came up way short.

"We were very clear about not fouling at the end from 3, so that was good," Bennett said as he laughed, referring to Casey Morsell fouling Adrien White at the end of regulation at Wake Forest.

With 0.1 showing on the clock, Braxton Key's final pair of free throws were a mere formality. The game was over. Virginia had scored the upset.

Before that final sequence, trailing 56-53 and needing a bucket, Clark was in another pick-and-roll situation with Huff and scooted down the left side of the lane before tossing the ball toward the far side of the rim to the giant Huff, who grabbed the ball out of the air and slammed it home as he was getting hit on the arm by Trent Forrest. He should've went to the line, but it didn't end up mattering.

"Jay went up and got that. I thought it was a heckuva play and ... an impressive catch-and-finish," Bennett said.

Clark, who finished with 15 points and four rebounds, was not without fault in the game, only going 4 for 12 from the field and matching four assists with four turnovers. But he was brilliant down the stretch, forgoing the 3-pointer (he was 0 for 4) and instead attacking the basket when the shot clocked ticked down. He didn't take any more treys after the 12:29 mark of the second half and also didn't turn it over after the 5:28 mark. Additionally, Clark sank all seven of his free throws (he leads the team at 87 percent). When it really counted, he came through.

"Kihei made some wonderful plays. ... [He] took a couple of those 3s that were tough, a couple were OK, but he had to, and you just gotta figure it out," Bennett said. "Obviously with his size, it makes it challenging. But I thought he was excellent today, and he did the same stuff at Florida State, but he learned from some of his errors, and even some of his errors early in [this] game and kept getting better and better."

Diakite almost notched a double-double, leading the team with 19 points while adding nine rebounds, an assist, and an insane block, which he got on an incredible recovery after hedging at the top of the key with 10:35 remaining in the game. Balsa Koprivica thought he had an easy layup, but Diakite came out of nowhere to make a really athletic play and bang the ball off of the backboard. Diakite also went 4 for 4 from the line, the first time in a long while he seemingly didn't miss a big shot at the stripe in the closing minutes.

"Elite Eight last year," Diakite said when asked about his confidence level stepping to the line with the chance to seal the victory. "Final Four. We've been there. That's the reason why we were all clutch today on [free throws]."

Diakite's biggest contribution was a trio of huge 3-pointers, exactly what Virginia needed to get over the hump. Each one came at a crucial juncture of the game. The first came in the first half with 3:46 left and made the score 21-21. It stopped a 5-0 FSU mini-spurt after UVa had taken its first lead at 18-16. It allowed Virginia to hang tough at the end of the first 20 minutes, something it didn't do in Tallahassee. Down there, the Seminoles ended the first half on an 11-0 run. The damage was minimal this time around: The 'Noles went into the break with a 12-9 run.

Diakite's second 3 also tied the score, at 30, with 17:33 remaining in the game. His third came on the next possession and gave UVa the lead. Diakite came into the contest pacing UVa in 3-point percentage but had struggled recently. Over a span of nine games, he had hit just 3 of his 15 attempts (20 percent). The 3-for-3 performance increased his season percentage to 42.1 (16 of 38). FSU seemed to give him the shot and regretted it.

"I was trying to get to my sweet spot, which is posting up down low on the block, but they were doubling me," Diakite said. "So I was like, 'OK, I'm just going to take what the defense is giving me.'"

Key was Virginia's final double-digit scorer with 13 points, and like Diakite, he also had nine boards, an assist, and a block. UVa did an excellent job on the glass, outrebounding the taller Seminoles 36-23, allowing just five on the offensive end.

"Every game, that's something we pride ourselves on," Key said. "To beat them by 13, that's huge."

Key missed his first two free throws, continuing a trend from the Wake Forest game, but ended by making five in a row. The Cavaliers were superb at the line, going 20 of 23, their most conversions at the stripe this season and their best percentage (87) since making 7 of 7 against Arizona State on Nov. 24.

Tomas Woldetensae scored eight points and went 2 of 4 from beyond the arc, not nearly as many attempts and makes as the Wake Forest game (7 for 14), but the same percentage. He added a rebound and three assists but also had four turnovers.

Huff also made a free throw in addition to his alley-oop for three points and collected six boards, two assists, and two blocks. Casey Morsell tallied three points but didn't shoot a 3, making 1 of 2 from the field and one free throw.

Virginia still was pretty sloppy with the ball, committing 17 turnovers. But just seven of those came in the second half. Bennett said when facing a team like FSU, you have to live with a few.

"We work really hard on trying to get in [the paint] and play off two feet," Bennett said. "Sometimes come to a jump-stop, get guys open on second cuts. At times we did it well, and at times we didn't -- that's when we turned it over. You have to have a go at it. Otherwise, if you're not gonna attack, you're gonna stand out there. ... You can't be so concerned [with turnovers] that you become hesitant and passive, because you have to attack against them. So you have to live with some of those and turn it loose. Just try to season it with a little more discipline or sureness, so we'll definitely keep working at it."

The game started in almost the same way as the first matchup, with the Seminoles getting out to an 11-3 lead. But UVa began chipping away, and from late in the first half on, the 'Hoos and 'Noles went toe to toe. This time, Virginia finished the job.

It was as if the Wahoos were in a big game as a top-five team again, receiving body blows, but getting up and responding with some of their own. It was fun remembering how it felt to win a tight game over a great team. Hasn't happened since April, after all. For a squad that has progressed in fits and starts and been downright ugly on occasion, this was a significant, possibly season-changing victory.

"We are a work in progress," Bennett said. "... We don’t always play beautiful. We can be awkward at times. At times it can be painful. But I say embrace it. Just play the heck out of the defense and get better -- and don’t worry about trying to be something you’re not. ... Move the needle in all areas a little bit. It was a good step, but there's miles to go before we sleep."

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