GREENSBORO, N.C. —- Virginia guard Jontel Evans made a single misjudgment on an inbound pass, incorrectly figuring Mustapha Farrakhan would stay in one place.
On its own, it would seem like no big deal. Put in context as the latest piece of the Cavaliers’ massive last-minute meltdown, it was final part of Miami’s comeback from 10 points down with less than 40 seconds remaining.
Evans’ errant pass was collected by Durand Scott, who tied the ACC tournament game with 13.9 seconds remaining. Soon after, the Hurricanes departed with an improbable 69-62 overtime defeat of the stunned eighth-seeded Cavaliers in the first round of the ACC tournament.
“It was unbelievable,” Evans said. “All I can say is ‘Wow.’ That was a great comeback on their part, but I think we helped them out being careless with the basketball and being passive. We just have to learn from this and move on.”
The Cavaliers (16-15) can learn a lot. Moving on, especially with the season coming to a close, will be the tougher part.
It was clear Virginia couldn’t do so in overtime, briefly taking a lead before fading fast against the ninth-seeded Hurricanes (19-13). Of course, that might be expected when a team implodes in a manner that invoked other epic collapses in ACC history.
Duke’s rally against Maryland in the Gone in 54 Second game in 2001 possessed the same degree of difficulty, but the Blue Devils needed 33 seconds to uncork its 10-0 run. Miami did its damage in a comparably efficient 22 seconds.
“I’d never seen anything like that before in all the games of basketball that I’ve played,” Virginia guard Joe Harris said. “I felt even more confident than the first time we played against them. I thought we had this game, and we just kind of let it get away from us. They talk about finishing to the end. It’s one of those things. You can’t think you have the game in your hands.”
Of course, he and the Cavaliers could be forgiven. Miami scored only eight points in the first 18 minutes of the second half and barely seemed capable of a rally after Farrakhan’s free throw made it 53-43.
The ensuing sequence was, at its best, improbable. Scott hit his only 3-pointer of the game with 35.2 seconds to go. Virginia’s Sammy Zeglinski missed two free throws. The Hurricanes’ Malcolm Grant hit a 3, and Zeglinski turned it over on an inbound pass. Miami’s Julian Gamble dunked the ensuing inbound try, setting up Evans’ misjudgment and Scott’s tying score.
“For us, everything that could go wrong had to go wrong and they had to finish,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “And they did.”
It hardly mattered Scott clanked a free throw, or that Virginia couldn’t grab the rebound off his miss, or that Miami was unable to get a decent shot in the closing seconds.
The lead was gone, the damage was done, the memories of 39 capable minutes dissipated once overtime began.
“We were deflated,” Bennett said. “We were trying to rally in the huddle. We went up one and I was talking about getting stops. It certainly was a concern the way we lost that lead. … You could see a little bit of a dazed look in their eyes, and it was evident.”
Miami, which meets top-seeded North Carolina in Friday’s quarterfinal, had a bit of history on its side. The Hurricanes erased a five-point deficit against Virginia in the final 30 seconds of the teams’ meeting in the regular season, then finished the task in overtime.
Still, this was a different sort of collapse, one even Miami could acknowledge.
“You could tell those guys were kind of in shock because they had the game,” Grant said.
Except they didn’t. Instead of celebrating their fifth victory in six games, Virginia was the first team sent home from Greensboro.
For Miami, it provided a solid memory in a season littered with close losses. As for the Cavaliers, the end of their plucky season was unforgettable in the worst manner possible: An unusual meltdown the likes no one in the Virginia locker room ever endured.
“Never in my life,” Farrakhan said. “But I guess there’s a first time for everything.”
—- Patrick Stevens