Virginia wasn’t panicking after back-to-back road losses at Florida State and Duke.
Maybe it’s time to start.
Floundering at both ends of the floor, the No. 15 Cavaliers fell 68-61 to North Carolina State on Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena, losing their third straight game and falling at home for the first time this college basketball season.
“We’re going to have to figure some things out,” said senior forward Jay Huff. “But it’s not the end of the world.”
Freshman guard Cam Hayes scored 16 points and senior forward D.J. Funderburk added 14 for the Wolfpack (11-9, 7-8 ACC), which won its third straight.
Senior forward Sam Hauser led Virginia with 21 points. Huff added 19 points and 11 rebounds, and junior guard Kihei Clark finished with 11 points and seven assists. Most of that production came during a desperate second half.
Virginia (15-6, 11-4) went to Raleigh on Feb. 3 and beat the Wolfpack 64-57. But that was three weeks ago and this is a very different looking UVa team now, one struggling to defend the paint defensively, and enduring long scoring droughts offensively.
“We need a lot of things with this team to be on and right,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “And it’s a hard way to go to be that sharp mentally and that good physically to beat teams that are playing well. But that’s just this team this year. When it’s a little off or it’s not right, then you can lose.”
This is just the third three-game slide for UVa in the past five seasons. The Cavaliers, who are off this weekend and host Miami on Monday night, haven’t lost four in a row since February, 2017.
“Losing three games is never fun,” said Hauser. “You can’t win em all, but you can learn from all the losses.”
With heightened COVID-19 precautions on grounds, UVa had no fans in attendance Wednesday, not even the small contingent of family and friends it had been allowing. A near-empty arena witnessed a largely empty performance.
The Cavaliers came out cold, and needed 3:40 to score their first points, on an inside basket by Huff. The Wolfpack jumped out to a 17-4 lead with 11:08 left in the half.
Virginia missed 11 of its first 13 shots and its first eight attempts from 3-point range. It trailed by as many as 14 — 24-10 with 6:05 to go before halftime — before fighting back into the game. At one point, a personal 6-0 run by Huff cut the Wolfpack edge to 25-21, and the Cavaliers went to the locker room down by a manageable count of 29-23.
“I thought the start of the game once again was not where it needed to be,” said Bennett. “We dug ourselves in a hole.”
Still, it was a flawed half for the Hoos on both ends of the floor. Offensively, though it cut down on turnovers, committing only three, Virginia shot 10-for-27 from the floor and 1-for-9 from 3-point range. They drew just two fouls in the first 20 minutes of play.
Defensively, N.C. State scored 18 of its 29 points in the paint and shot 12-for-25 before the break.
The Cavaliers turned things around out of the gates in the second half. Hauser hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game 29-29 and N.C. State’s first three possessions were fruitless.
State regained command during a 12-2 run highlighted by a corner 3-pointer by Braxton Beverly. That came during another cold-spell for the UVa offense in which it missed eight of nine shots and allowed the Wolfpack to go up 45-37.
Virginia stayed close the rest of the way, led by Hauser and Huff, but never really threatened to take the lead. It trailed by four, 65-61, with 15 seconds left when Hauser’s long 3 bounced around the rim but rolled off.
It got 40 of its 61 points from its two redshirt senior forwards.
The strange disappearance of Trey Murphy III continued. Despite UVa playing its second straight game without senior guard Tomas Woldetensae, who is out due to COVID-19 contact tracing, the Rice transfer was a non-factor.
After taking just two shots in Saturday’s loss at Duke, Murphy III was 1-for-3 in the first half and didn’t start the second, when UVa turned to a big lineup with sophomore forward Francisco Caffaro instead.
Murphy III finished 1-for-5, including an 0-for-4 showing from beyond the 3-point arc, before fouling out with 8.6 seconds to go.