ATLANTA — This was bubble basketball at its finest, two flawed teams working to hide those blemishes just long enough to win.
While both teams had gaffes, it was N.C. State that ultimately imposed its will, beating Virginia 67-64 in an ACC tournament quarterfinal.
The Cavaliers haven't played on Saturday at the conference tournament since 1995. A sluggish start Friday was enough to keep that streak intact.
U.Va. coach Tony Bennett called timeout with 8:51 to go in the first half, livid at his team's lack of hustle.
"That's not our brand of basketball," guard Jontel Evans said. "He said he didn't know who was out there. We weren't defending, and like I've said, that's our bread and butter and our only chance to win."
Even after righting the defensive ship, the Wahoos never really could take control of the game.
The final score was indicative of a faster pace than they've used in wins, and after falling behind early, they had no choice but to try to hustle and catch up.
"Early on, we came out a little slow," guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "It really put us in a hole we were trying to dig out of the rest of the game. They played with the lead the whole way."
With the 'Hoos closing in late, it was more traditional demons that haunted them.
Injuries have been a factor all year, and no starter played fewer than 34 minutes Friday. Bench players Paul Jesperson and Darion Atkins combined for 13 minutes, scoring no points and recording no rebounds.
The 3-point shooting also faltered, with U.Va. finishing 2-for-12 behind the arc, including a game-tying attempt by Joe Harris in the waning seconds.
With 2 minutes remaining, Evans missed a long ball that would have tied it. The Wolfpack couldn't convert the icing free throws, though, and the 'Hoos got another opportunity with 22 seconds left.
Evans started with the ball, and he was supposed to drive the lane and kick it out to the open player, Harris or Zeglinski. But Mike Scott wasn't in the paint, allowing a quick double-team against Evans, who had no choice but make the only available pass to Akil Mitchell.
Mitchell handed off to Harris and set a pick, allowing a long but open 3-point look to tie. It didn't fall.
"It was a broken play, but Akil did a nice job to get a handoff to me and set a pick on my guy," Harris said. "That left me with lots of room. I just left it a little bit short."
It was a tough finish for a team that has experienced quite a few bad breaks in recent weeks.
Attention now turns to the NCAA tournament, where the Wahoos are expected to compete.
"Hopefully we're in," Evans said. "We had a good year, but if not, we'll go to the NIT. Either way it's basketball."
He didn't say that with much conviction. Only one is the big prize, and it remains within reach.
The other bubble schools have done their part this weekend. After all, the ACC isn't the only conference with flawed teams.
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By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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