- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2010

GREENSBORO, N.C. | Tony Bennett watched the losses pile up, then was forced to make a personnel decision that threatened to drain whatever fragile confidence Virginia’s players had left.

Now the first-year coach is watching his players prove they’re not finished just yet.

Sammy Zeglinski scored 16 of his season-high 21 points in the first half to help the Cavaliers beat Boston College 68-62 on Thursday in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. It was Virginia’s first win in a month, snapping a nine-game losing streak that was the program’s longest in nearly five decades.

Mike Scott had 11 points and 13 rebounds for the ninth-seeded Cavaliers (15-15), who also won their first tournament game since beating Virginia Tech in the first round in 2006. Now the Cavaliers are headed to Friday’s quarterfinals to face fourth-ranked and top-seeded Duke.

“We’ve had some struggles and we’ve had some setbacks,” Bennett said. “They have come together and they have worked hard. There’s been a good attitude. You have to do that when your tank isn’t full, and I’m just really proud of the way they handled it.”

It was a relief-inducing win for the Cavaliers, who were the talk of the ACC in January after winning their first three league games and starting 5-2 after a 59-47 home win against North Carolina State on Feb. 3. But the Cavaliers hadn’t won since, gradually sliding toward the bottom half of the standings.

Things got worse last week when Bennett suspended leading scorer Sylven Landesberg for the rest of the season due to academics issues. When they lost to Maryland to close the regular season, the Cavaliers entered Greensboro with their longest losing streak since the 1961-62 season.

Yet the Cavaliers played confidently against the eighth-seeded Eagles (15-16), who had beaten Virginia 68-55 last week. Zeglinski busted out of a shooting slump as one of five Cavs in double figures.

“With Sammy and with all our guys, we just want if they get a good look in the rhythm of the offense and you say it’s a green-light shot, take it as long as it’s a good shot,” Bennett said. “When you get good looks you have to take them when they present themselves.”

Zeglinski had made 11 of 52 3-point attempts (21 percent) in the past 10 games, but got off to a quick start by knocking down four 3s in the first half. That helped the Cavs go on a 20-4 run for a 37-27 lead on Jerome Meyinsse’s three-point play less than a minute into the second half.

“We all just came in with the mindset to be aggressive and not to back down,” Zeglinski said. “Last time we played them, they were mentally tougher than us. We kind of took that personal. We wanted to come in and be more physical and not yield to their big bodies inside.”

It was also a strong bounceback performance for Scott, a regular starter who came off the bench in this one. After Boston College closed to within 49-46 with 8:43 left, Scott knocked down a jumper over Cortney Dunn and then followed with a tip-in to push the margin back to seven.

“I had smaller defenders checking me, so I just demanded the ball,” Scott said. “I got it.”

Two possessions later, Zeglinski — who hadn’t made a shot in the second half — got free on an inbounds play and knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 56-48 with 5:37 left.

Mustapha Farrakhan (10 points) added a key three-point play with 1:19 left, hitting a hanging layup while colliding with Dunn in the lane to make it 61-52. BC got no closer than five points late.

“On the defensive end, we just did not maintain our concentration,” Boston College coach Al Skinner said. “We let guys kind of get away from us. When you’re in that situation, you’ve got to make sure that your execution on both ends of the floor is proper.”

Rakim Sanders tied a season-high with 22 points for the Eagles, who had won all four of their ACC tournament openers. BC’s Joe Trapani, a third-team all-conference pick averaging nearly 15 points per game, finished with two points on 0-for-7 shooting.

“I felt as though we could have definitely done well in this tournament,” Sanders said. “I guess things happen. We can’t really say too much about it, but just hope for better next year.”

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