Devon Daniels held up his right hand and spaced about an inch between his thumb and index finger to try to show the difference between N.C. State and Virginia on Tuesday night.
“We were this close to winning,” Daniels said.
N.C. State was so close to its first regular-season win over Virginia since 2009. A tough 3-pointer by Kyle Guy and a late free-throw miss by Markell Johnson proved to be the final difference in a 66-65 overtime contest.
After an uncharacteristic effort by the powerful Cavaliers (19-1, 7-1 ACC), No. 1 in the KenPom rankings and No. 3 in the AP poll, Guy was relieved to pick up UVa’s 12th straight regular-season win over the feisty Wolfpack.
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“It was a bad game on our part,” Guy said. “Coach (Tony Bennett) was rightfully mad after the game and got after us because we did not play anywhere near our standard.”
Sixteen turnovers cost Virginia, which squandered a 14-point lead in the second half, so did an otherwise off shooting night from Guy (3 of 11).
N.C. State (16-5, 4-4 ACC) had a hand in provoking Bennett’s ire with his team. The Wolfpack, as has become its trademark, kept scratching and clawing. N.C. State also had an unusual amount of success on the offensive glass (16 rebounds) and took care of the ball (only eight turnovers).
Any deficit to Virginia can be counted like dog years. The Wolfpack trailed 42-28 with 12 minutes left, 51-43 with 5:55 left and 53-48 with 3 minutes left in regulation.
After a plodding first half, N.C. State found some life turning Virginia over and getting Johnson (14 points) and Torin Dorn (13) in a rhythm.
Daniels had 10 points off the bench, forward Wyatt Walker turned in his best game of the season with 11 points and seven rebounds and N.C. State was careful with the ball and its fouls.
The officiating has been a source of frustration for Wolfpack fans and was again on Tuesday, to the point that Kevin Keatts had to get on the PNC Arena public address system and ask the crowd to refrain from throwing anything on the court.
But Virginia was called for 22 fouls, compared to 16 by N.C. State. For the first time in an ACC game, N.C. State had more free-throw attempts (21) than its opponent (19).
But N.C. State couldn’t make the most of its chances on the free-throw line. Johnson, in his second game back from injury, tied the game at 55 with 29.7 seconds left in regulation with a pair of free throws.
After an inexplicable foul by Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter with 0.9 seconds left in overtime, Johnson had another chance to tie the game at the foul line. Johnson, who was fouled on a 3-point attempt and with N.C. State down 66-63, missed the first of three free throws.
Against Clemson, N.C. State made the last-second shot for the win. This time, the ball didn’t bounce N.C. State’s way.
“It’s a thin line between winning and losing,” Keatts said. “We were on the other side of it against Clemson.”
That’s how it goes sometimes. Guy’s shot was difficult. It was also the only 3-pointer he made (in five attempts).
“It was a tough look,” Dorn said of Guy’s shot. “You tip your hat to a guy shooting like that.”
The players weren’t interested in claiming a moral victory but the Cavaliers have been playing “murder ball” with ACC teams this season. Their first six ACC wins were by 13 (Florida State), 27 (at Boston College), 20 (at Clemson), 22 (Virginia Tech), 23 (Wake Forest) and 27 (at Notre Dame).
Duke, which beat UVa 72-70 in Durham, is the only other ACC team to play Virginia to single digits this season. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 2 in the country.
“That just tells us that we’re right there,” Daniels said. “If we clean up a few things, take out some of the mental mistakes, we can win the game.”
The Wolfpack might have actually learned more about where it is after this loss than its four ACC wins.
“If we can continue to play that way against one of the elite teams in the country, and in the ACC, then we can be pretty good,” Keatts said.