Second-half collapse mars finish for Virginia's seniors
The best men's basketball team Virginia has put on the court in more than 30 years was rolling, completely dominating Syracuse. A berth in the Final Four seemed like a done deal.
And then, it slipped through the Cavaliers' grasp. Top-seeded Virginia was out.
''I think it's difficult because of the situation we were in, how close we were to grabbing something that (has been) all of our goals since the day we walked through the door at Virginia and for most of us since we were little kids,'' reserve center Mike Tobey said. ''It's just really tough right now that it's over, that the season's over, for me that my career is over.
''There's a lot of things right now that are really tough.''
Especially for Virginia's five seniors.
The Cavaliers became unglued in the face of a full-court press, losing a 16-point lead as 10th-seeded Syracuse upset Virginia 68-62 on Sunday night.
Tobey, along with Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Evan Nolte and walk-on Caid Kirven were part of a team that tied the school record for victories in a four-year span with 112. No. 113 seemed almost a given, but when Syracuse went to its press, it sparked a 25-4 run that blew holes in Virginia's reputations for veteran poise and stout defense.
''When they threw that press on us, we didn't really handle it in the best fashion,'' Gill said.
While the Cavaliers' season ended in stunning fashion, coach Tony Bennett lauded his outgoing players for lifting Virginia back to relevance - though that hardly soothed the agony.
''Probably in a couple days it will be a lot easier,'' Tobey said. ''Right now, it's just tough because of how close we were to accomplishing a goal - and it's just really almost in your grasp and just not happening.
''A couple of days, like I said, I'll probably be able to look back and realize how much this program has grown,'' he said. ''But for right now, it's just really hard dealing with this loss.''
For Bennett and the program, the future looks bright. The competition for playing time will be fierce next season.
Devon Hall, who missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, gained valuable experience as the third guard this year. He will compete with Marial Shayock and Darius Thompson, along with incoming freshmen Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome next season. They will play alongside guard London Perrantes.
Up front, where Gill and Tobey leave a major void, Virginia will gain the services of transfer forward Austin Nichols from Memphis. He is expected to bring a low-post presence at both ends of the floor. Freshman Mamadi Diakite, who is already enrolled, and highly regarded 6-foot-10 freshman Jay Huff and 6-7 freshman DeAndre Hunter, both of whom are talented scorers from inside, and out.
AP sports writer Andrew Seligman contributed from Chicago.
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