RALEIGH, N.C. — Every year, at least one top seed has that moment where it seems like they will be the first to fall to a 16-seed. They make a run, get the crowd or viewers excited, and it’s not quite enough.
Virginia had watched higher seeds get upset for nearly two full days before the Cavaliers got their chance to play, and then they were nearly a victim themselves.
But they shook off the pesky Chanticleers and pulled away for a 70-59 win.
Virginia fans might have been nervous when Coastal Carolina took a 10-point lead with 4:25 to go in the first half or even when their team still trailed by five at the break. But the players weren’t.
"We understood what it was going to take for us to win, and that was the defensive end. We wanted to make sure we got back to what we do best," sophomore Justin Anderson said. "It just started to feel natural that second half."
Sophomore Malcolm Brogdon said that the team was in need of a gap.
A gap, to Virginia, is three stops in a row. They had more than that as they held Coastal Carolina to three points from the 18:09 mark until 10:56 remained.
"We came out at the beginning of the second half and we had a gap. A gap for us is three stops in a row. We had three stops and on those, we converted each time and built our lead. I think that was the turning point," Brogdon said.
Coastal Carolina was still right there. But after the Chanticleers tied it for the final time with 8:52 remaining, they would go nearly four more minutes with just one field goal, all the while Virginia continued to build and build and build its lead.
Virginia closed the game on a 23-7 run (Coastal scored five points in the final 1:43 after the game was already all but decided).
You might think you have Virginia right where you want them. You would be wrong.
"It’s a war out there. The NCAA Tournament’s a war because it’s a whole bunch of sharks, and you don’t want to be that little fish in the big ocean," Anderson said. "So we want to make sure we go out there and try to impose our will as well."
This time, it was sophomore Evan Nolte.
He averaged nearly 20 minutes a game as a freshman but he’s at 9.0 this year — including this game, when he played 11 in relief of Akil Mitchell (who was in foul trouble).
He hadn’t hit a three-pointer since February 26 and hadn’t hit more than one in a game since January 4.
All he did was come in for much of the second half and hit 3-of-4 shots (2-of-3 three’s) and score eight points.
"I think it’s just always having the mentality of staying ready, just — the game wasn’t going well, just always ready on the bench, whenever you come in, being a shooter and you don’t get a lot of reps in games, you try to just come in with confidence," Nolte said.
Just another day in the life of Virginia basketball, where on any given night, someone could step up and fill a much bigger role than they had been.
"The guys that you don’t see very much, we’re not just typical behind-the-scenes player. We’ll be good. It’s nothing surprising, I don’t think."
Anderson wasn’t surprised.
"It’s no surprise. I’ve been trying to say it all year — we’ve got guys that can make plays. … So it’s no surprise to us. We understand why it’s a surprise to everyone else, but it’s no surprise to us."
As Virginia sat around for two full days waiting to play a game that tipped off at 9:15 p.m. on Friday, they watched higher-seeded teams on Thursday night and Friday fall.
After their game tipped off, they realized quickly they might be the latest victim.
"That’s always in the back of your mind. You’ve heard the statistics about how no one has been that team yet, and we’re in that situation," Brogdon said. "But we try not to let that distract us and focus on the right things, which is one possession at a time and getting back on defense."
Anderson, though, thinks all the worry over 1-seeds that struggle with 16-seeds is overblown anyway. Particularly in this age of parity in college basketball.
"It could be anybody. No one’s invincible. Tough ACC teams going down, tough Big 10 teams — it’s tough. It’s a tough league that we play in, Division I," Anderson said.
"I think sometimes people say, oh, they’re a 16-seed, they’re to playing anybody. This is Division I basketball here. Guys can fill it up. Guys are very confident in their system that they’ve been running all season. They can beat any team on any given night."