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Late Run Sinks Cavaliers

Florida State guard Ian Miller (30) shoots over Virginia guard Sammy Zeglinski (13) in the final seconds Thursday. The shot gave Florida State a 63-60 win over Virginia. (AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff via roanoke.com)

If I told you that two of Florida State’s top three forwards left the game Thursday, one due to ejection and the other after fouling out, that Seminoles guard Michael Snaer, who has made two game-winning three-pointers this season, went 0-for-3 from deep, and that Virginia’s Mike Scott dominated the game with ten rebounds and an ACC career-high 28 points, how many points would you think Virginia had won by? Five? Ten? 20?

Problem is, no matter your answer, you’d be wrong.

Florida State guard Ian Miller came off the bench to score 18 points – 15 of them in the second half, including a game-winning three-pointer with 0.8 seconds to play – as the Seminoles overcame the ejection of senior leader Bernard James to spoil Virginia’s Senior Night with a 63-60 road win. The loss marks the Cavaliers’ second-straight three-point loss at home after a 54-51 defeat to North Carolina last Saturday. Starting with a 58-55 loss at Florida State Feb. 4, Virginia has dropped five of their last eight, and have played themselves firmly onto the bubble of the NCAA Tournament after a phenomenal start to the season.

With just under five minutes to play, James and Harris got into a violent collision at midcourt going for a ball in the air, one initiated by Harris, who earned a personal foul for his trouble. But when the two players hit the floor, James kicked out at Harris, catching him in the ribcage with his foot. After an extended conference by the officials, James was assessed a flagrant foul and sent to the locker room. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said that James’s ejection galvanized his players and set the tone for their play over the last several minutes of the contest.

“No question about it, it did energize them,” Hamilton said after the game. “They were saying ‘We’ve got to pick it up, we’ve still got a chance to win, we’ve got enough time.’ Anytime you hear those types of things coming out of your kids’ mouths…realizing, ‘We lost our big guy, and so now everybody’s got to step it up.’”

Virginia, down nine at halftime, came out strong in the second half, with Harris and senior guard Sammy Zeglinski scoring eight apiece after the break despite being held to a combined total of one point in the first half. The Cavaliers built a lead that climbed as high as 11 points with 4:33 to play, but then crumbled, as the Seminoles closed the game on a 16-2 run that hinged heavily on what was essentially a six-point play for Florida State. Miller converted a three-point play, then Harris was called for an offensive foul trying to get open against the Seminoles’ full-court press. Off the resulting inbounds play, Miller drained a long-range shot to cut the Virginia lead to 58-55.

The total time off the clock from the whistle on Miller’s layup to the made three-pointer?

One second.

The Cavaliers were plagued by turnovers during the game-ending run, giving it away four times in the last 3:30, including one with 36 seconds left when Zeglinski got in the lane and tried to find sophomore forward Akil Mitchell down low, but the ball caromed off Mitchell’s hand and out of bounds to set up Florida State’s final possession.

Virginia’s resources were drained by the absence of freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon, who joined senior center Assane Sene on the bench in street clothes due to a foot injury. Virginia coach Tony Bennett refused to comment on the status of the injured players, but at this point in the season, the depth of the squad has to become a pivotal concern. Four Cavaliers – Scott, Harris, Zeglinski, and point guard Jontel Evans – played at least 35 minutes, and with freshman guard Paul Jesperson not receiving consistent playing time, it seems as if Virginia is playing with a 6.5-man rotation sans Brogdon and Sene.

Virginia now has one game remaining, a rematch at Maryland Sunday, before the ACC tournament. A win against the Terrapins, who the Cavaliers thrashed 71-44 in Charlottesville two weeks ago, likely wraps up the No. 4 seed in Atlanta (and a first-round bye) for Virginia, but after a disappointing ACC stretch, it is unclear what will be required of the Cavaliers to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

“We’ve just got to try to play well against Maryland,” Bennett said postgame. “I can’t tell you what exactly is required for us, where we’re at…I know we’ve got to play well, and we’re capable of it.”

Some things that have to improve for Virginia to have the ability to make a run in postseason play:

Someone else besides Mike Scott has to score consistently. Virginia got 27 combined points from Harris, Zeglinski, and Evans, but the problem is it required 24 shots, and only five of those points came in the first half. Harris’s confidence is finally starting to return after his broken hand, but Zeglinski needs to string together a consistent full game to draw some defense away from Scott, who draws the opposition’s full attention every night the way Virginia is playing now.

Rebounding. To be fair, the Florida State edge in rebounding, at 27-21, was much less severe than the margins against North Carolina, who outrebounded Virginia by at least 19 in both meetings. However, no Virginia player besides Scott contributed more than two rebounds against the Seminoles. This has to change if Virginia wants to have a chance against a Carolina or Duke squad in the ACC tournament, or, quite frankly, against anyone in the NCAA Tournament.

Health. Malcolm Brogdon and Assane Sene, consider this my personal plea to you to get better and back on the court as soon as humanly possible. Don’t jeopardize your well-being, but if you can play, we need you. Brogdon provides athleticism and solid defense off the bench to go with the ability to score in spurts, and Sene, while not gifted with a versatile offensive arsenal, still stands seven feet tall and represents Virginia’s best hope of slowing Carolina’s Tyler Zeller should they meet in Atlanta. For fatigue reasons (as stated above, four Cavaliers played 35 minutes. Imagine an NBA game where four players on one team play 42 minutes each – it’s unheard of) and foul trouble reasons (without subs to go to, foul trouble compounds itself for Virginia more than for most), the sooner Brogdon and Sene are back in the lineup, the better Virginia’s chances.

The ACC Tournament starts March 8 in Atlanta. The top four seeds receive first-round byes.

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