BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Points are often challenging for No. 25 Virginia to come by, and when that’s the case, the Cavaliers are getting used to having one of the nation’s best defenses to rely on.
When they employ that style to beat Virginia Tech, so much the better for them.
For the second game in a row, the Cavaliers (21-6, 8-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) held an opponent scoreless for more than eight minutes in the second half, this time blanking the Hokies for 8:25 to turn a 49-44 deficit into a 56-49 lead on the way to a tough, 61-59 victory.
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Against Maryland on Saturday, the Terps didn’t score for a stretch of 8:18.
“Coach told us before the game that it’s going to take a defensive effort that’s uncommon,” said Sammy Zeglinski, who scored all 13 of his points after halftime and helped fuel the 14-0 run that put Virginia ahead to stay. “I don’t think we answered the call in the first half, … but he challenged us at halftime and we came out with a new attitude and a new intensity.”
And then held on for dear life as Zeglinski and Jontel Evans, the other ball handler who also scored 13 points, fouled out 30 seconds apart, Zeglinski leaving with 1:32 remaining.
The Cavaliers hung on when freshman Malcolm Brogdon, inserted in place of Evans, tipped a pass away and grabbed the ball. He was fouled with 1.9 seconds left and missed the free throw, but it hardly mattered as Dorenzo Hudson’s attempt at a full court heave had no chance.
“We were leaking oil at the end, but we hung tough,” Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said.
Virginia Tech (15-13, 4-9), which came in having played three consecutive games decided by a point, led 49-44 after Erick Green’s floater with 13 minutes to play. When Robert Brown finally broke the drought with two free throws with 4:35 left, the Cavaliers had built a 56-51 lead.
The field goal drought lasted until 38 seconds remained when Green scored on a drive.
“We were rushing. We weren’t patient like we’ve been doing, running our offense, getting in sync,” Green said after getting 17 of his 19 points in the second half. “It kind of takes you out of your rhythm. We got down to the end of the shot clock and had to force some shots up.
“That’s not what we do best.”
Mike Scott led Virginia with 20 points, 15 in the first half.
“Nothing cute or sexy about that one,” he said. “We had to claw our way out of there.”
The Hokies were playing without starting forward Victor Davila, who was sidelined by a groin injury. Davila’s defense on Scott helped limit the Cavaliers’ leading scorer to 10 points in the teams’ first meeting.
The game changed when the Hokies went cold as Virginia got hot behind Zeglinski. With the crowd jeering his every move, even prompting him to laugh at one point. He scored seven points in a 14-0 burst, including a 3-pointer and a steal and a layup.
“The best thing I heard from the crowd was, `Sammy, what’s longer, your nose or your last name?'” the senior who had six rebounds and three assists said. “I had to laugh at that one.”
But the Hokies, who won 47-45 on Jan. 22 at Virginia, weren’t finished.
Green made three of four free throws and Dorenzo Hudson one of two to pull the Hokies within 59-55, and they also fouled out Zeglinski and Virginia defensive specialist Jontel Evans.
Paul Jesperson, inserted into the lineup when Zeglinski fouled out, then collected a rebound and put it in for the Cavaliers, giving them a 61-55 lead with 43 seconds to play.
Green was fouled while scoring and made the free throw to make it a three-point game with 38 seconds to go. Virginia’s Akil Mitchell missed the front end of a one-and-one two seconds later.
Green’s floater came up short, and he made only one of two free throws with 26 seconds to go, but the Hokies again fouled Mitchell, and he again missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Cadarian Raines gathered in the rebound in a pile, and the Hokies called a timeout.
With 17.6 seconds left, they were working the ball around for a good shot when Malcolm Brogdon got his arm on a pass and stole it. He missed the free throw with 1.9 seconds to go, but Hudson’s desperate heave after getting the rebound was off.
Evans also scored 13 for Virginia.
Hudson had nine for the Hokies.
Scott, who scored an ACC career-best 25 points in Virginia’s victory against Maryland on Saturday, has had to assume an even greater role in the Cavaliers’ offense since starting swingman Joe Harris broke a bone in his left hand more than a week ago.
Harris has continued to play, but with heavy padding on his non-shooting hand that hampers his shot. He’s scored just 10 points in three games since the injury.
Early, both teams shot well.
The Hokies used a 16-6 run that featured four 3-pointers to open a 29-21 lead. Marquis Rankin hit twice from long range and Dorian Finney-Smith and Hudson also connected. The Hokies made six of their first eight from behind the arc, matching their season average for 3-pointers.
Virginia shot 68.4 percent in the half, led by Scott’s 7 for 10, and trailed 35-32 at halftime. The Cavaliers made only two 3-pointers, the second by Scott, who had 15 at the half.