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Bennett Ball Week 12: Falling just short

As Casey Morsell’s jumper grazed the front rim and fell to the floor, Virginia fans fell silent. The Cavaliers suffered their fourth ACC loss of the season on Monday night in their 53-51 defeat to N.C. State. In each ACC loss, Virginia has led in the final five minutes.

In those final five minutes in losses to Boston College, Syracuse, Florida State and N.C. State, the Cavaliers have been outscored 54-26. That’s a point differential of minus-28, which averages to -7 per game in the final five minutes.

If the Cavaliers played at that rate across a 40-minute game, they’d lose by 56 points. The closing stretches have crushed Virginia.

Given the team’s inexperience and lack of depth, it’s not shocking that the team fades late in contests. Between fatigue and pressure, the Cavaliers don’t execute to the best of their ability.

To fix these late-game woes, UVa needs someone to step up. There hasn’t been a go-to offensive threat this season for Virginia, and a player like Mamadi Diakite or Braxton Key needs to step up in those final minutes. The upperclassmen need to take command of a struggling offense.

Twelve games remain in the regular season. Virginia desperately wants to make the NCAA Tournament. To return to the Big Dance, the Cavaliers need to close out leads.

Hoos in the NBA

Justin Anderson’s 10-day NBA contract wasn’t renewed by the Brooklyn Nets, but he did sign with the team’s G-League affiliate.

Malcolm Brogdon — The point guard posted four stellar games after returning from injury before throwing up a clunker of a game Monday night. He scored just five points on 2-of-11 shooting in a 30-point loss to Utah, but he was fantastic in the previous four games. He led the Pacers to four consecutive wins by scoring clutch baskets late in games. Indiana is a solid threat in the Eastern Conference.

Joe Harris — As Kyrie Irving ponders the pieces he wants added to his team to win a title, the Nets keep losing. Harris remains steady, scoring 14 points per game this season, but Brooklyn is on a four-game skid.

Mike Scott — The wing performed about as well as he has all season in Monday’s win over Harris and the Nets. The 76er scored eight points on just four shots and added eight rebounds in a six-point win over Brooklyn. 

De’Andre Hunter — The rookie fouled out for the first time in his career in Monday’s loss to Toronto. Hunter had a great first half, though. He blocked Pascal Siakam and added a powerful dunk. He finished the game with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Kyle Guy — Guy dropped 37 points in his latest G-League showing, including an impressive driving dunk. He also went 7-of-13 from 3-point land. He’s still seeking more NBA playing time.

Ty Jerome — He’s played twice in Phoenix’s last two games, playing seven combined minutes and tallying a rebound, an assist and a block. Breaking into the Suns’ rotation has been a challenge.

ACC roundup

We appreciate honesty in this newsletter, so let’s start by calling myself out.

Last week, I wrote “Duke (5-0 ACC) is the clear-cut No. 1 team in the conference.” Well, as the kids like to say, that take has aged poorly.

Duke lost to Clemson and Louisville last week, dropping to 5-2 and third in the league behind Florida State (6-1 ACC) and Louisville (6-1 ACC).

I also said “Add in a large home-court advantage and they’re the likely ACC regular-season champion.” Well, the Blue Devils have home losses to Stephen F. Austin and Louisville on their resume now. So much for a large home-court advantage.

N.C. State sits at 5-3 in the league, while Virginia Tech and Syracuse are close behind. Roy Williams and North Carolina rank dead last in the league with a 1-5 record. It’s been a wild ACC season.

I still feel confident that Florida State, Louisville and Duke are the league’s three best teams, but it’s anyone’s guess which team will end up winning the regular-season crown. Given my statements last week, it’s probably best for me to sit this one out and keep any guesses to myself.

By the numbers

» After being undefeated through 15 games when holding teams to fewer than 60 points, the Cavaliers have lost two of their past three games despite holding their opponents to under 60 points in all three.

» The loss to N.C. State marked the eighth time this season the Cavaliers have shot 25% or worse from 3-point range.

» Virginia started the season 4-0 in games decided by single digits. The Cavaliers are 1-4 in single-digit games since that perfect start.

» Jay Huff has been efficient for Virginia, shooting 19-of-30 in his past four games. He’s played at least 20 minutes in each of the past four games, including 41 minutes in the overtime defeat against Syracuse and 34 minutes in the win over Georgia Tech.

» Huff added a career-high 17 points and six blocks in the win over the Yellow Jackets. He’s shown improvement over the course of the past few contests.

A weird schedule

After playing Georgia Tech on Saturday, the Cavaliers quickly turned around and faced N.C. State on Monday. They won’t return to the court until Sunday, when they play at Wake Forest.

Another quick turnaround follows, with Virginia hosting Florida State on Tuesday. Then, Virginia takes a full week off before hosting Clemson on Feb. 5.

It’s an odd schedule for the Cavaliers, but it does give them a few large periods to work on their games and rest up. Halfway through the ACC season is an ideal time to rest and recover.

The team needs to win more consistently to make the NCAA Tournament. With time to recover and work on holes in their game, the Cavaliers need to turn their interesting schedule into wins.

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