Virginia's record season ends early in disappointment
The record book will show that Virginia's 2014-15 season was among the best in program history.
But it came to a quick end in the NCAA Tournament after another slow start - a recurring problem all year.
The Cavaliers (30-4) fell behind 15-4 in the first few minutes against Michigan State in the round of 32 on Sunday and spent the entire game trying to claw their way back into contention. Even though Malcolm Brogdon had a 3-point try that would have given them the lead, he missed.
A deep run in the tournament - and the season - was over.
''I feel like we started both halves slow and it put us in holes,'' sophomore point guard London Perrantes said after the 60-54 loss in Charlotte, North Carolina. ''We have been doing that all year and it finally caught up to us.''
Forward Darion Atkins, the lone senior, said after the game he felt like he ''wanted it more'' than some of his teammates. and while others weren't as direct, their shortcomings were undeniable.
Their latest slow start couldn't have come at a worse time.
Virginia set a school record by starting 29-1, then lost three of its last five. Each time, a shaky start on offense found them in a hole from which they couldn't escape.
''The way we started, there was a little bit of a pattern or a trend for us, where our starts hurt us,'' coach Tony Bennett said. ''... That first five minutes, it wasn't a matter of heart or effort. I thought our guys played hard. It was just that when we needed a key shot or a bucket, it wasn't there.''
And while they led the nation in scoring defense, their final game was arguably their worst on offense.
''Your defense can only hang in there so long,'' Bennett said. His team shot a season-low 29.8 percent (17-57), and missed 15 of 17 3-point tries, with Brogdon's 3 in the final minute coming far too late. It ended a string of 12 consecutive misfires from beyond the arc for the Cavaliers.
Forward Anthony Gill said the Cavaliers' performance was ''disappointing.''
''I think we had a lot more in us,'' said Gill, who led the Cavaliers with 11 points. ''I think that we didn't execute the way we should have. They were really physical with us and we didn't respond the way we should have, and when we did respond, it was too late.''
Atkins finished with 10 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and two blocked shots, but the starting backcourt of Brogdon and Perrantes totaled 14 points on 5 of 22 shooting and missed 10 of 11 3s.
''Both halves we missed some chippies, open shots that we have to get,'' Perrantes said. ''We thought eventually they would fall and they didn't. We tried to find ways to get them to and they didn't.''
Virginia went more than 10 1/2 minutes in the second half without making a field goal, and still trailed just 54-48 when Atkins ended the drought on a tip-in with 1:51 remaining. While the bucket brought the possibility of a late rally within view, the Spartans' defense refused to allow it to happen.
Barring any early departures or transfers, everyone but Atkins returns, but first, time will be spent lamenting what could have been.
''It stings right now, of course,'' Bennett said, ''with the finality of the season after you had a heck of a year with these guys and what they've done. It just leaves that feeling that you wish you could have taken it further. But it doesn't take away, once the dust settles, what this team accomplished.
''We give thanks for that, but certainly learn from what took place.''
Follow Hank on twitter at: http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr