Where the game was lost
The game turned in the first five minutes of the second half, starting with Marcus Georges-Hunt’s turnover on the second possession of the game. With the score 32-30 in Virginia's favor, Virginia forward Anthony Gill came out to defend Georges-Hunt on a ball screen high atop the key. Georges-Hunt dribbled into Gill, which often results in a foul on the defender. This time, Georges-Hunt lost control of the ball, Gill grabbed it and tore down the court for what looked like an open-court dunk. Georges-Hunt tried to defend, but fouled Gill and in the process got knocked to the floor and fell on his lower back, clearly in pain.
Georges-Hunt left the game, going back to the locker room for treatment, and Gill made both free throws. With Georges-Hunt out, Virginia coach Tony Bennett switched Malcolm Brogdon (ACC player of the year and defensive player of the year) onto Adam Smith, who missed a 3-pointer over a tough challenge by Brogdon. Quinton Stephens won the rebound and Nick Jacobs put up a second-chance attempt but missed. He and Charles Mitchell both came down with the rebound, resulting in a turnover when Jacobs fell to the ground with the ball.
On the next possession, with Josh Heath now on Brogdon instead of Georges-Hunt, Brogdon posted up Heath (who gives up three inches and about 30 pounds to Brogdon) and scored easily. Smith missed on a pull-up jumper. Virginia’s Devon Hall drove on Stephens and scored on a reverse layup while getting fouled, one of those plays that makes you think it was just going to be Virginia’s night.
Now down 38-30, Tech called timeout, during which Georges-Hunt returned to the court. He didn’t come in until the next stop, but before then, Mitchell lost the ball in the post and Virginia guard London Perrantes scored on a jumper for a 40-30 lead at the 15:53 mark. Georges-Hunt checked back in about a minute later at the first TV timeout with the score 40-32.
Said coach Brian Gregory, “We got a little out of sorts there when Marcus got hurt.”
Tech has had considerable success lately rallying late to win, notably Wednesday, rallying from down 18 points against Clemson to win in overtime. Against Virginia, one of the best defensive (and offensive) teams in the country, a comeback from 10 points down, even with most of the half left, was exceedingly unlikely.
Smith was hot – he was 3-for-5 from 3-point range in the second half – but with Brogdon getting the better of Georges-Hunt and Virginia’s post trap giving Tech fits in the paint, it wasn’t enough.
This isn’t to say Tech would have won had Georges-Hunt not gotten hurt – the lead continued to grow even when he returned – but I imagine the Jackets might have been able to remain stay in the game longer had he not.
About the Cavaliers
Virginia is really good. It stands to reason, given that the Cavaliers are 25-6 and ranked fourth in the country. But no team has controlled the Jackets in a way that Virginia did Thursday, and the Jackets have played plenty of ranked teams.
It’s common after losses for athletes to not give the opponent much credit for winning the game. Often, the sentiment is to blame the loss on a failure to execute or a lack of effort. It was telling that Tech’s players recognized what they were up against.
Stephens acknowledged Virginia’s consistency, ability to exploit mistakes and called the Cavaliers “one of the best defensive teams we’ve played against, definitely.”
Said Smith, “I thought we were going to compete better with them. But they’re a different team than we played at home earlier in the year. You can see it, you can feel it. They really executed well tonight. It seemed like they stepped up their defense a bit. Their defense has always been good, but they were really on their game tonight.”
I believe rest was another factor. Tech was playing 24 hours after having gone overtime in a physically taxing and emotionally draining win over Clemson. Virginia hadn’t played since Saturday. Again, not to say that Tech would have won had both teams been on equal rest, but I think it was a factor, and the benefit of earning the double bye as a top-four seed. Virginia won a lot of 50-50 balls, one indication of energy level.
Virginia had four offensive rebounds in the second half and turned them into 10 points. A killer was at the 9:56 mark, when Virginia center Mike Tobey missed his second free throw and the Jackets failed to secure it. It wasn’t off a funny bounce, either, it was one that the Jackets just couldn’t control. Isaiah Wilkins did, and Perrantes hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 19. I think, if there had been any flickering chance of a comeback, that pretty much killed it.
“They got more 50-50 balls, and more offensive rebounds,” Georges-Hunt said. That’s one thing we didn’t get enough, offensive rebounds, and that’s one thing we thrive off of.”
A look at how the teams compared in four critical statistical categories, effective field-goal percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free throws per field-goal attempt.
Not surprisingly, Virginia won three of the four categories, all decisively. The Cavaliers were smoking from the field, about six percentage points above their average for the ACC season. The Cavaliers got 26 points from Brogdon on just 15 shots , including 3-for-6 from 3-point range. For Tech, guard Tadric Jackson and center Ben Lammers had pretty nice scoring games – Jackson was 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from 3-point range for 11 points and Lammers was 3-for-4 for six points.
Aside from those two and Smith (16 points on 6-for-14 shooting, 4-for-8 from 3-point range), the Jackets had nothing doing.
Again, not one factor was decisive, but the turnover differential played a hand in the outcome. One quarter of Tech’s possessions ended in turnovers, which is a credit to how well Virginia was playing on defense.