RALEIGH — The day began with Duke making a quick exit out of the NCAA Tournament in a shocker at PNC Arena.
It ended with Virginia refusing to follow the Blue Devils out the door.
The Cavaliers, the ACC champions and the No. 1 seed in the East Region, survived. But it took a strong second-half surge to put away spunky Coastal Carolina 70-59 Friday in their NCAA opener.
With less than nine minutes to play, the score was tied at 47 and some Virginia fans appeared edgy. But the Cavaliers (29-6) used some clutch outside shooting from Evan Nolte, inside scoring from Anthony Gill and relentless defense to defuse the upset bid and turn back the 16th-seeded Chanticleers (21-13).
Virginia, picking up its first NCAA victory since 2007, will face eighth-seeded Memphis (24-9) on Sunday in the NCAA round of 32.
The Chants led 35-30 at the half, shooting 52 percent from the field and hitting five of 10 from the 3-point line. They worked hard on defense and didn’t allow Virginia an offensive rebound – in either half.
But the Cavaliers did everything better after the break. They tightened up on defense, forcing the Chants into 32 percent shooting. On the offensive end, Virginia hit 13 of 20 shots from the field (65 percent) as Gill struck inside and Nolte found openings in the corner and on the wing.
“It’s a tale of two halves, without a doubt,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We weren’t dialed in defensively in the first half. They showed they were were ready to play and we weren’t as sharp, especially defensively.
Bennett stressed unity to his team at the half, having heard some bickering in the first half. He sensed that history could be made and a No. 16 seed finally knock off a No. 1 if something didn’t change.
“We could have been the poster child for that,” Bennett said. “I asked them, ‘Will you have an iron will? Will you outlast them or will they outlast you?’ ”
Virginia again had offensive balance, getting 17 points from Gill, 14 from Malcolm Brogdon and 12 from London Perrantes. Nolte closed with eight points.
Virginia made its winning move with less than nine minutes to play. With the score tied at 47, Perrantes hit all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt and Nolte followed with a 3-pointer from the left corner, lifting the Cavaliers to a 53-47 lead.
After a free throw by the Chants, the Big South champions, Nolte followed with another 3-pointer from the corner for a 56-48 lead. The sophomore then drained a jumper on the next possession and the Cavs were on their way.
“They really played a great second half,” Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis said. “The 3-point shot really broke our backs. They hit them at key times.
“They showed why they’re good. They didn’t panic when we took the lead. They played tremendous defense, especially in the second half. We’re disappointed we didn’t win.”
The Cavaliers opened the second half with a 12-3 spurt fueled by a pair of inside baskets from Gill and a driving score and 3-pointer from Brogdon.
Ellis probably couldn’t have drawn up a better plan for the first half. The Chants, playing in the NCAAs for the first time since 1993, made tough shots and forced the Cavs into some bad shots.
“We felt good at halftime,” Coastal Carolina’s Eric Smith said.
The Chants, shooting 33.3 percent from behind the arch this season, built a 31-21 lead with five minutes to play in the opening half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Michel Enanga and Smith forced Bennett to use a timeout to regroup as the Chants put together a 17-4 run.
The Cavs held the Chants to one field goal in the final five minutes of the half -- on a goal-tending call in the final seconds. Virginia looked to drive the lane and force the Chants into fouls, cutting into the lead at the foul line.
The second half belonged to the Cavaliers, who refused to be the next big one to fall.
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