That wasn’t pretty. A first half characterized by a stagnant offense and a flat defense, it soon became obvious that this would be a grind of a game. Foul trouble plagued the ‘Hoos from the get-go, and even forced Tony Bennett to abandon his strict two fouls and pull philosophy as Boston College jumped out to an 18-8 lead after ten minutes. A valiant second half run left the Cavalier faithful assuming a win was coming. But for the second time this season, a double-digit deficit comeback would be overrun by Virginia’s opponent’s shot making.
There’s not much else to say about Virginia’s offensive performance other than emphasizing that they simply didn’t make enough shots to win. 17-52 (32.6%) from the field and 3-16 (18.8%) from three isn’t going to cut it on the road in the ACC. They only committed ten turnovers, which is a decent number for this team, and shot acceptably from the free throw line at 16-20. The ‘Hoos even grabbed nine offensive boards. But as we all know, when looking at the most glaring issues for this team on offense, the lack of a pure scorer, a bucket getter, is blatantly apparent in late game situations.
Clark did a nice job penetrating the Boston College defense down the stretch, but eventually, the Eagles stopped helping to Clark and just relied on the superior size of Jay Heath (6’3”) to disrupt Clark’s shot. Everybody knows what Kihei is to this team, and this isn’t even a criticism of him. But sometimes, no matter how much skill is in play, superior size wins out in the game of basketball, and that’s just the way it is.
Overall, Clark wasn’t at all that bad in this game, scoring twelve points on 6-6 shooting from the charity stipe, to go with three assists. He even canned two of the team’s three three-pointers. That said, he failed to score from two-point range in this game and the ‘Hoos desperately needed a few of his driving layups to fall.
Braxton Key was excellent in this game. His sixteen points and eight rebounds led the Cavaliers, and his late, left-handed layup was beautiful. Perhaps even more critical for this team is his ability to push the ball down the court following a defensive rebound. By doing so, he takes pressure off of Kihei Clark to bring the ball up, and even by just getting down the court quickly, he can catch the opposition trailing behind and search for transition looks.
Nonetheless, the late game reinjury of his wrist dampens any encouraging sentiments we might draw from his play. For those who may have missed it, while fighting for a rebound with roughly six seconds left, Key fell awkwardly and was forced to land on his injured left wrist. He stayed down in pain until Trainer Ethan Saliba walked him off the court to the bench. Now, I’m no medical expert, but that splint is meant to protect his wrist from further injury, so I hopefully (!) this won’t keep him out for too long, but we’ll have to see.
Other notable performances came from Jay Huff and Mamadi Diakite, who struggled direly with foul trouble and forced Bennett to experiment with lineups even the optimist would deem offensively incorrigible. Diakite would show flashes of impressive play, finishing with a respectable stat line of nine points, seven rebounds, and two blocks on 3-6 shooting. But this team needs the fifth year on the court as much as possible to give them a spark offensively, keep the defense in position, and then clean up the mistakes with his shot-blocking prowess. Availability is the best ability, and both of these guys need to be on the floor for this team to hit its potential.
In a night of disappointments, Kody Stattmann was a surprising bright spot. Following up a career high ten-point performance against the Hokies, Stattmann one upped himself and went for eleven tonight, along with seven rebounds. But more than just the numbers, Stattmann’s fluidity attacking a wing ball screen was great to see, as that is something the Virginia offense has been missing so far this season. It seems he’s found his stride and may be starting to pull away from Morsell and Woldetensae in the fight for the minutes at shooting guard.
But zooming out, this loss hurts. Now, we’ve got to start studying Virginia’s resumé, and believe it or not, try to determine what they’ll have to do to make the NCAA tournament. At this moment, the ‘Hoos have played the 155th hardest schedule in the country, and the 300th (out of 353) most difficult non-conference schedule. Their best wins have come at home against a whimpering North Carolina team (#61 on KenPom), on the road versus an 8-6 Syracuse (#64 on KenPom), in a neutral setting against Arizona State (#94 on KenPom), and in a home matchup with a ridiculously inexperienced Virginia Tech team (#71 on KenPom). Their opportunities for legitimately high-quality wins in a weakened ACC will come in their home matchup with Duke, and the pair of two-game series with Florida State and Louisville. Outside of a run in the ACC Tournament, the ‘Hoos likely need to scrap up at least one win against Louisville and Duke, and then another against Florida State to solidify their status before Selection Sunday. With too many more disappointing losses like tonight, the Wahoos will need to win more of those matchups.
Entering this season, it was difficult to know what to expect, and frankly, it still is. But that is what we know; that inconsistency will be consistent. We know this team is streaky (at best) offensively, and despite still boasting the nation’s best defense, there isn’t a perimeter lockdown defender like the Deandre Hunters, Devon Halls, and Malcolm Brogdons of year’s past for this team to rely on if and when an opposing guard gets hot. Don’t get me wrong, Kihei is a fantastic defender, as are Key and Diakite, but none of them fit that mold.
Without that stopper mentality defensively, and without a pure scorer on the other end, this team will leave itself vulnerable to upsets and inconsistency. Saturday’s drubbing of Virginia Tech was a good result, but that’s likely Virginia’s ceiling of play this season. We’ll see how often they can stick to that level of play rather than tonight’s.