Virginia coach Tony Bennett was worried about slow starts by his Cavaliers after a victory at Syracuse and loss at Louisville during the final week of the regular season.
Now his focus might shift to that pesky mid-game period when the second half begins.
The top-seeded Cavaliers used their customary suffocating defense Thursday, limiting Florida State to 32.6 percent shooting in a 58-44 victory in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum. Evan Nolte’s 3-point shooting (3-of-4) and Mike Tobey’s power game inside led Virginia with 11 points apiece, and Malcolm Brogdon shrugged off foul trouble to net all 10 of his points in the final nine minutes.
The victory sends Virginia (29-2) into a semifinal date at 7 p.m. Friday against fifth-seeded North Carolina (27-10), a 70-60 winner over Louisville, as the Cavaliers go after their second consecutive tournament trophy to go with its two straight regular-season titles.
UNC holds an 11-3 advantage over Virginia in ACC tournament play, 5-0 in Greensboro. But the Cavaliers won the only meeting with the Tar Heels this season, 75-64 in Chapel Hill, and UNC forward Kennedy Meeks said the loss still stings.
“I felt the effort wasn’t there in the second half,” he said. “The first half was great. The second half I felt they came out and hit us in the mouth.”
Junior guard Marcus Paige agreed, recalling that it was a one-possession game at halftime. “Then we came out and returned the ball five or six times and rushed some shots, and then they went on a pretty big run and that was the game,” Paige said.
“So we learned you’ve got to stay disciplined and stay the course against a team like Virginia that’s not going to beat themselves. They do a great job getting the shot they want.”
Virginia got the shot it wanted in the first half against Florida State, racing to a 16-2 lead and shooting 63 percent for the half, but in the second half that shooting stroke dropped off to 33 percent.
“Certainly I liked how we came out and played in the first half,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought we were very sharp and played with a purpose defensively. Didn’t give them easy looks, rebounded well. Then offensively we had a good pace ...
“In the second half, there were enough plays that were made for us to be successful, but we labored. We labored offensively at times and had breakdowns defensively, and we had just enough (to win).”
Led by a game-high 13 points from freshman guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State (17-16) rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to within five points twice, the latter time at 44-39 with 7:04 left.
Brogdon showed why he is an All-ACC guard, however, as he steadied the Cavaliers in the stretch run by making all six of his free throws, including two for a technical foul on FSU coach Leonard Hamilton that helped Virginia pull away.
Bennett said he thought Brogdon was “pressing a little bit and forced the issue.”
Bennett’s other concern was the return to action of junior guard Justin Anderson, who was the ACC leader in 3-point shooting before missing eight games with a fractured left pinkie. He also had an appendectomy March 5, which further delayed his return.
Late in the first half, Anderson drove the lane but had his shot blocked by Florida State’s Jarquez Smith and landed hard under the basket on his back.
So it was no wonder that Bennett and the Virginia fans were holding their breath when Anderson went down.
“When he got upended and fell, I was concerned for a second,” Bennett said, “but he said he landed on his backside so he was OK.”
Anderson logged 12 minutes and did not score, missing two shots. He also grabbed two rebounds.
Bennett said Anderson looked rusty from the 32-day layoff. “But my hope is next time he’s out there, he’s better,” Bennett said, “and you just kind of have to go through that.”