Virginia entered Saturday second only to NBA-sized North Carolina among ACC teams in rebounding margin. The Cavaliers had outboarded 14 of 19 opponents, and their largest deficit on the glass this season was six against Drexel.
So suffice to say it was startling to see North Carolina State punish Virginia 42-25 in rebounding Saturday. And downright remarkable to watch the Cavaliers still manage to emerge with a 61-60 road victory that gives them sole possession of fourth place in the conference.
“We talked about being ready,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We talked about blocking out. The short turnaround, we usually crack it a little harder and work between games, especially on defense and rebounding.
“We didn’t do that (this time), and I don’t know if we were a little soggy or a little soft upstairs. Because it’s a physical deal, and you have to react quick to it. (C.J.) Leslie and (Richard) Howell and those guys, they get on the glass really quick.
“I told our guys, ‘We better get back to what we do or it’ll be trouble.’”
Indeed, this was the Cavaliers’ second game in three days. But the Wolfpack was working on similar rest. Plus, State was reeling from a 19-point whipping at North Carolina, while Virginia was coming off a 17-point win over Boston College.
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Howell had a career-high 18 rebounds before fouling out. He had half of the Wolfpack’s 18 offensive rebounds.
DeShawn Painter’s offensive rebound of a Leslie missed free throw in the final minute led to a Scott Wood 3-pointer that drew State within 61-60. After Sammy Zeglinski missed for Virginia, Pack coach Mark Gottfried called timeout with 7.8 seconds remaining and put the ball in point guard Lorenzo Brown’s hands against Virginia’s barbed-wire defense.
“We wanted Lorenzo to be able to turn the corner,” Gottfried said. “We put Scott on the baseline, so they wouldn’t be able to help out. I thought he might have gotten bumped pretty hard on the dribble. But you roll with that. You move on.”
My press row seat was under State’s basket, and trust me, Virginia’s Jontel Evans nudged Brown quite effectively. But such contact was hardly unusual for either team Saturday, and forward Akil Mitchell helped Evans by fighting through a screen at the top of the key and forcing Brown wide.
“I thought Akil did a terrific job of taking Brown out of the play,” Bennett said. “We didn’t let him turn the corner, get into our defense. Had to really string out wide as the clock was ticking, and we made him take a tough shot. Fortunately there wasn’t too much time left, or they might have gotten a 19th offensive rebound. … Jontel bodied him up to make it a contested shot.”
The Cavaliers’ second-half defense allowed them to survive not only the Wolfpack’s rebounding, but 4-for-18 shooting after intermission. This after a 60-percent first half.
“In the first we were poor defensively,” Bennett said. “Thankfully we were hitting shots. It was a little bit of a role reversal. Our offense kept us in it in the first half … and our defense let us down. In the second half our defense was better. Not great, but was better, and our offense struggled. Some costly turnovers.
“I thought we got a little rattled in stretches. Whenever we did, though, we usually came back and hit a big shot or got to the line.”
Virginia continued to miss 7-foot Assane Sene, sidelined until early March with an ankle injury. As in previous games, Bennett employed a four-guard lineup at times, but State’s ferocious rebounding forced him to substitute offense-defense late in the game.
In fact, Gottfried’s timeout before the final possession allowed Bennett to put the 6-8 Mitchell back in the game, and his size clearly affected the 6-5 Brown.
Mike Scott scored a game-high 18 points for Virginia, but the ACC’s leader in field goal percentage (58.1) was 1-for-6 after halftime. Zeglinski made 4-of-5 threes and is six for his last nine after a 2-of-17 slump.
Another stat quirk: State, the ACC’s No. 2 free-throw shooting team at 74.4 percent, was 12-for-21, or 57.1 percent.
“My heart hurts for my team,” Gottfried said, “because I thought my team played their hearts out.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including one from Saturday’s game.