Jontel Evans didn’t know if he was to blame, if big freshman Mike Tobey didn’t do his job or if some combination of failures were responsible for Virginia coming up short on its final possession.
In any case, the conclusion Wednesday night was one U.Va. has become all too familiar with at Wake Forest.
Despite failing to hit a shot from the floor in the final 10 minutes and 22 seconds and letting a 14-point lead slip away, Wake Forest held off U.Va. for a 55-52 win, claiming the Demon Deacons’ 10th consecutive win against the Cavaliers at Joel Coliseum.
“I told our guys they battled hard to get back to that spot, but don’t feel too good about that,” U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said. “I think you’ve got to look at the majority of that game and learn from that and grow from it. We have to.”
U.Va. (11-4 overall, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) was unable to capitalize on its big win Sunday night against North Carolina, turning the ball over 17 times against Wake Forest and shooting just 36.4 percent from the floor. U.Va., which was led by 6-foot-11 forward Mike Tobey’s 14 points off the bench, missed its first six 3-pointers before connecting on three in the final minute.
Though U.Va. wasn’t sharp, it still found itself in position to snatch the game away down the stretch from Wake Forest (8-6, 1-1), which was led by C.J. Harris’ 16 points. Trailing by three points after Harris hit a couple of free throws with 5.3 seconds left, U.Va. had no timeouts to set up for its last possession, but U.Va.’s players had a chance to huddle prior to Harris’ free throws.
U.Va.’s Joe Harris, who had 13 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the floor, said the plan was to have Evans drive straight to the basket if C.J. Harris had missed a free throw. Joe Harris added if C.J. Harris made both free throws, Evans was going to look to get the ball to Tobey on a kick-out for a 3-point attempt.
Neither of those ideas came to fruition.
After C.J. Harris’ successful free throws, Evans dribbled up the floor after taking the inbounds pass from Joe Harris, but Evans never got the ball to anybody. Instead, Tobey couldn’t get his hands cleanly on a close range bounce pass from Evans on the right wing, and the ball ended up rolling toward midcourt as time expired.
“That was the play for (Tobey),” said Evans, a Bethel High graduate who started for the first time since re-injuring his foot Dec. 5 against Tennessee. “I saw the guy coming behind him, so I tried to bounce pass it. I don’t know whether it was a bad pass or he lost it. It was just a bad possession.”
Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team was out-rebounded by U.Va. 40-24, opted to go against his initial thoughts heading into U.Va.’s final possession. He briefly pondered the wisdom of fouling.
“Well, I thought about fouling right away and just putting them on the (free throw) line,” said Bzdelik, whose team has won four of its last five games. “I decided against that. I really did. Now, all of a sudden you foul them, and there’s four seconds to go and (U.Va. misses) a free throw. It hasn’t been a real strength of ours – blocking out in the free throw lane.”
Wake Forest shot 40.9 percent from the floor, but that was after shooting 52 percent in the first half. It shot 26.3 percent in the second half, which included eight consecutive misses to end the game.
“We were outplayed for the majority of that game (for) 35 minutes,” Bennett said. “The effort was OK, but the soundness is what was lacking. We got out of the gate turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Our upperclassmen – we were out of sync and played rushed and I think that really affected us.”
Codi Miller-McIntyre put Wake Forest up 46-32 with 10:22 left via a layup, but U.Va. managed to claw back into the game in the next three minutes with a 7-0 run fueled by Akil Mitchell’s four points. He finished the game with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. It was his sixth double-double of the season.
Evan Nolte cut Wake Forest’s lead to 50-46 with 56 seconds left by hitting U.Va.’s first 3-pointer of the game. U.Va. hadn’t trailed by less than five points since it was down 24-20 with 2:20 remaining in the first half.
Nolte missed two more 3-pointers in the next 23 seconds, but Joe Harris helped keep U.Va. within striking distance.
C.J. Harris made two free throws with 26 seconds left to push Wake Forest’s lead back to 52-46, before Joe Harris quickly connected on a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining to trim the deficit to 52-49.
Tyler Cavanaugh put in one of two free throws with 16 seconds left to push Wake Forest’s lead to 53-49, but Joe Harris wasn’t done yet. He knocked down another 3-pointer with seven seconds left to cut Wake Forest’s cushion to a single point. C.J. Harris made his final two free throws to set up U.Va.’s final failed possession.
“I don’t know exactly what we can pin (the loss) on,” Joe Harris said. “We just lacked execution, focus, energy. I mean, you name it. We didn’t come ready to play, and we didn’t deserve to win this game.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times