TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Braxton Key slipped to the floor as the buzzer sounded Wednesday night.
The ball slipped out of his hands, and the Cavaliers lost to No. 9 Florida State, 54-50. The turnover didn’t show up in the final box score, but it was a fitting ending to another sloppy finish for Virginia.
The Cavaliers (11-5, 3-3 ACC) are on a three-game losing streak. The losses are piling up, and frustratingly for the players, coaches and fans, they’ve had chances to win every game in the final minutes.
Tony Bennett’s group was outscored 13-3 in the final five minutes of a 60-53 loss to Boston College.
Syracuse outscored Virginia 20-12 in overtime to win 63-55. Florida State went on a 10-4 run in the final five minutes to beat the Wahoos, 54-50.
The Cavaliers have been outscored 43-19 in the final five minutes of their past three games, all of which were losses.
“It takes courage to not get discouraged,” Bennett said of his message to the team. “You can’t be soft … you don’t get discouraged. Yeah, you can self-reflect and get disappointed and you can look at yourself and we can look and I can look at ourselves, what we do and say, ‘OK, here’s areas that maybe there’s some concerns that we keep working on,’ but don’t you dare get discouraged.”
Turnovers and 3-point shooting are two of those concerns that the Cavaliers will keep trying to improve. They committed 18 turnovers against the Seminoles and went 3-of-15 from 3-point range.
Despite those issues, Virginia excelled on shots inside the arc, making 18 of its 31 two-point shots. The Cavaliers also forced 16 Florida State turnovers and held Trent Forrest to just five points.
There were obvious positives from the loss. Virginia took No. 9 Florida State to the brink in Tallahassee despite awful shooting and sloppy play. The Cavaliers turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions at one point in the first half, yet they still had an opportunity to beat a top-10 team.
But for a program that won the national championship last season, moral victories don’t exist.
“No one feels good about this,” Virginia forward Mamadi Diakite said. “We’re a winning team, and we just had three consecutive losses, but what [Bennett] said is true. It takes courage to not get discouraged. We gotta keep fighting. It’s not a moment to put your head down.”
Diakite says the Cavaliers see improvement in practice, and there were good stretches in the Florida State game.
It was easy to see good energy and aggressiveness from the Cavaliers, especially the upperclassmen in the frontcourt. There were positives, and the team does seem to be showing improvement. Unfortunately for Virginia, those improvements and good defensive efforts haven’t translated to wins.
Maybe the biggest reason for the losses is the poor finishes. Virginia failed to close out each of its past three games. Each matchup was there for the taking, but struggles down the stretch led to defeats.
If the Cavaliers can limit turnovers and make a few more shots, especially late in games, they aren’t that far off.
“If you wanna take something positive from a loss, we came up short by a couple of points, a couple of turnovers,” Virginia guard Tomas Woldetensae said. “It’s all about the little details.”