Another ugly game, but this time, an ugly win. This contest was in one sense, a microcosm of the entire season so far, and in another, a revolutionary break from the norm. Here are my takeaways from what was a must-win game on the road.
Clutch buckets are back
In regulation and overtime, the ‘Hoos scored six baskets (for fifteen points) in what the NBA designates as “clutch time” (under five minutes remaining with the game within five points), compared to just nine clutch baskets in the previous five games. What’s even more mind boggling is that Kihei Clark was inches away from the most dramatic buzzer beater since, well, you know.
But seriously, the guys stepped up big late. Kihei Clark’s fade away jump shot from the free throw line with 1:58 remaining was silky smooth. Jay Huff’s corner three with thirty-nine seconds left was chest-beatingly beautiful. And Mamadi Diakite’s go-ahead, teetering layup off a scrappy offensive rebound was just plain gutsy.
Of course, the Deamon Deacons were without their two best perimeter scorers, so any declarations of this performance as the new norm are mitigated. Nonetheless, some semblance of this type of late play moving forward would be monumental for this team that has struggled direly in late game situations.
While the clutch play certainly improved, Virginia’s issues with ball security persisted in Sunday’s matchup. They turned the ball over fourteen times, a number that is softened by valiant shooting efforts and Wake Forest’s missing pieces. Frankly, this problem isn’t going away. Sure, the ‘Hoos could benefit from being more conscientious with the ball and in their decision making, but given this team’s offensive limitations, sometimes they need to go for the risky play just to produce a scoring opportunity.
Tomas Woldetensae is basically Kyle Guy
But above all, the story from Sunday’s win is most certainly the shooting performance of Tomas Woldetensae. Hitting a whooping seven three-pointers, the junior college transfer is now shooting 35.3% from deep as a Wahoo, rebounding from a dismal 14.3% through his first seven games.
No, he’s not going to shoot like he did Sunday, nor at that same volume, on a consistent basis. But Woldetensae just being a threat from the perimeter is so valuable for this team. That impact was perfectly depicted on the play that got Huff an open three with thirty-nine seconds remaining as the defense scrambled to contest Tomas’ shot before he dribble drove past them and found the big man in the corner. Every team needs shooters, and it seems the Wahoos have found another.
Braxton Key needs to be more effective
Overshadowed by Woldetensae’s magnificent performance, Braxton Key had an awfully inefficient night on the offensive end of the floor. Per usual, he can’t be faulted for his defensive effort, and his eight rebounds were critical. But he can’t be shooting 2-16 from the field and 3-9 from the free throw line. I’ll cut him some slack because, as we all know, he’s still dealing with a hurt wrist and the brace he has on his hand can’t be comfortable. Still though, he’s shot better than that with more constrictive layers on his left wrist. I don’t know if maybe he tweaked it in game or if he was just off, but the Cavs are going to need his production moving forward. Ideally, he’d cut out a few of those long two-pointers and would can a three to keep the defense honest, but, really, he needs to be doing his damage as a slasher and at the rim. Hopefully he bounces back quickly against the length of FSU.
Tired legs for Tuesday night?
On Sunday, three players (Woldetensae, Clark, Key) played over forty minutes, along with Diakite who played thirty-seven, so there could be some very tired legs for Tuesday night’s matchup with the #5 team in the nation. As evidenced by the N.C. State loss just over a week ago, it’s extremely difficult to play on the road, then travel back home and play two days later. Florida State’s obvious capabilities only compound the issue, especially considering that this is, realistically, a game the Wahoos have to win. So, while that was a gutsy win in Winston Salem, we’ll see if allowing the undermanned Deacs to take them to the wire will come back to bite Virginia.