Win moves Virginia into second in ACC
Jab-stepping on the perimeter, North Carolina State forward C.J. Leslie had no idea the shot clock was expiring at John Paul Jones Arena. Such was the discombobulated state the Wolfpack found itself in Tuesday night in a hostile arena and against the confounding defense of Virginia.
But in Charlottesville it took more than defense for Virginia to topple No. 19 North Carolina State. With Joe Harris steadying the offense, Akil Mitchell pounding inside and freshman Mike Tobey providing a spark off the bench, Virginia rallied in the second half for a 58-55 victory before 10,977.
With its fourth straight win, Virginia (15-5, 5-2) displaced North Carolina State (16-5, 5-3) for second place in the ACC, extending the miseries of the Wolfpack who have lost three straight ACC road games by a combined six points.
"When we've been on the road, it seems like it turns into a rugby match," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said.
Nobody does rugby better than Virginia - the nation's No. 2 ranked scoring defense (51.2 points per game) -- which forced 14 turnovers and harassed the ACC's most accurate team into 37.7 percent shooting. The rugged defense extended right up until the final possession as sophomore Paul Jesperson tipped a 3-point try by Scott Wood (nine points), triggering a raucous celebration as the Cavaliers ended their 10-game losing streak against ranked ACC foes.
January has been a remarkable reversal for a Virginia team that lost five weeks ago to CAA cellar-dweller Old Dominion (2-17), whose only other win this season came against Morgan State.
"It's great. We're touching on something very special," senior Jontel Evans (four points, seven assists) said. "Guys have bought into the system. Guys are playing their roles at a very high level and we're doing it as a unit."
Evans played his role Tuesday, leading the defense and recovering from missing three straight foul shots at the end of the first half. His two free throws with 29 seconds left gave Virginia its 58-55 lead.
The 6-6 Harris (22 points) was a stalwart throughout, scoring inside and out, while the 6-8 Mitchell (14 points, 12 rebounds) stood his ground against N.C. State's Richard Howell (12 points, 11 rebounds). The 6-11 Tobey (13 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) helped the cause with his smooth arsenal of low-post shots, delivered with either hand.
N.C. State battled sickness and injury. Senior forward Leslie (20 points, 14 rebounds) started the game on the bench with the flu. Junior guard Lorenzo Brown, called by both coaches the best guard in the ACC, didn't play in the second half after aggravating an ankle injury.
"They missed him a lot," Evans said. "They kinda struggled on offense, finding guys for open shots. He's the one that gets guys easy shots. Tonight we made it tough, trying to pressure the ball. They weren't the same without him."