ATLANTA – By the time Virginia learns its NCAA tournament fate Sunday evening, the sting of its 67-64 loss to North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals might start to wear off, but there's a lot to overcome.
Jontel Evans and Joe Harris may ponder the missed 3-pointers. Akil Mitchell might consider the stolen rebound. Sammy Zeglinski could think about the momentum-killing foul.
They're all shortcomings U.Va. coach Tony Bennett will stew over in his search for answers for why his team couldn't reach the tournament semifinals for the first time since 1995.
"I want to look at the film and see if we used our head or not at times," Bennett said.
"We had our opportunities at the end to tie or push ahead, and we got some good looks and didn't capitalize on them."
While U.Va. (22-9) suffered its third loss Friday by a margin of three points or less in its last four games, No. 5 seed N.C. State bolstered its NCAA tournament potential by shooting 54 percent from the floor – the best performance of the season for the Wolfpack against an ACC opponent. C.J. Leslie led N.C. State, which moves on to face top seed North Carolina in Saturday's semifinals, with 19 points and 14 rebounds.
"He was very aggressive," said forward Mike Scott, who paced No. 4 seed U.Va. with 23 points on 9 of 23 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds. "He's a very good player – long and athletic. He really took it to us today."
Despite playing at a pace for much of the first half that didn't suit its usual plodding style, and failing to take the lead for all but 30 seconds in the final 34 minutes of the game, U.Va. remained within striking distance. Scott scored 15 points in the second half.
Trailing 65-62 with 12 seconds left, U.Va. had a shot at tying the game, but Harris missed a long 3-pointer from the left elbow. Harris proceeded to foul out when he hacked Lorenzo Brown near midcourt. Brown hit two free throws with seven seconds left to put the game away.
"I had my eyes on the rim and I had my feet set and it felt good coming out of my hand, but I left it a little bit short," said Harris, who scored 18 points, his most since fracturing his left hand Feb. 11 at North Carolina.
Harris' miss came after Evans, a Bethel High graduate, had his own shot at tying the game with 1:41 remaining. His unguarded 3-point attempt clanked short off the rim, allowing N.C. State (22-11) to maintain a 63-60 advantage.
"I was wide open," Evans said. "They always say you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. I felt like it was a good shot, but I just missed."
N.C. State's lead hovered between one and eight points in the opening 13 minutes of the second half before a pivotal exchange involving Mitchell, who had 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
With N.C. State leading 55-49, Brown missed a jumper and Richard Howell couldn't connect on a tip-in. After Howell's miss, Mitchell appeared to pull down a rebound with 6:14 left, but Leslie ripped the ball from Mitchell's grasp. Leslie passed the ball out to Scott Wood, who nailed a 3-pointer to give the Wolfpack a 58-49 lead, its largest of the game.
"He kind of snuck up on me," said Mitchell of Leslie's play. "I don't know if there was a foul or not, but I ended up on the floor. It kind of hurt, but there were plays like that all game where it was just a little deflating. Little mistakes just kind of hurt us."
Wood had just eight points after scoring 22 in N.C. State's first round win against Wake Forest, but he hurt U.Va. in a big way at the end of the first half.
Harris hit two free throws with 31 seconds left to cap an 11-4 U.Va. run and give the Cavaliers a 33-32 lead, but on N.C. State's final possession of the half, Zeglinski fouled Wood after he made a 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second left.
Wood hit the ensuing free throw to put N.C. State up 36-33. U.Va., which shot 43.4 percent from the floor and out-rebounded N.C. State 35-28, never led again.
"We had breakdowns and they were being more aggressive than us," Evans said. "It just wasn't our brand of basketball. I just feel like if we would've been sound and tough, then it would've been a different ballgame."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times