Almost everything went wrong for Virginia down the stretch of Friday night’s ACC opener against Pittsburgh.
The Cavaliers went scoreless for five minutes and 40 seconds and saw their seven-point advantage turn into a four-point deficit with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
The meltdown was seemingly destined to result in Virginia’s first loss in an ACC opener in the Tony Bennett era.
Almost everything went wrong.
The one thing that went right for the Cavaliers was Jayden Gardner, who scored five points in the final ten seconds of the game, including a fadeaway jumper that hit the rim three times before falling in to give UVA a one-point lead with just 0.9 seconds remaining.
Kadin Shedrick deflected the Panthers’ last-ditch in-bounds pass, which was then intercepted by Kihei Clark, and Virginia escaped with a 57-56 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
Pittsburgh came into the game averaging 3.9 three-pointers made per game. Midway through the first half, the Panthers had already surpassed their season average with four threes.
Despite Pitt’s above average three-point shooting, Virginia was able to build a 10 point lead late in the first half. Jayden Gardner spun on the baseline before firing a pass to Igor Milicic Jr., who drained the corner three as part of a 9-0 UVA run to put the Cavaliers up 30-20 with a little over four minutes remaining until halftime. Gardner led all scorers with 15 points on 7/10 shooting and added five rebounds and four assists.
Then, Pittsburgh switched to a zone defense. The Cavaliers have frequently seen some variation of a zone defense from their opponents this season and they appeared to have progressed in their ability to handle it offensively coming into this game. Against Pitt, however, UVA routinely passed up open perimeter shots in favor of driving in for heavily contested shots in the paint.
Virginia went scoreless for the final 4:26 of the first half and Pittsburgh closed with a 6-0 run to make it 30-26 at halftime.
The Panthers’ momentum carried into the start of the second half, as John Hugley collected an offensive rebound and put it in to cap off a 10-0 Pittsburgh run to tie the game at 30. Hugley was Pitt’s leading scorer in the game with 12 points.
The teams went back-and-forth from that point on, exchanging the lead multiple times. There were 14 lead changes in the game.
A Kadin Shedrick dunk helped Virginia gain some separation, but he then picked up his third and fourth fouls on back-to-back defensive possessions and checked out with 7:01 left in the game. The Shedrick dunk gave UVA a 50-43 lead with 7:21 remaining, but that would be the last made field goal for the Cavaliers until the final ten seconds of the game.
UVA continued to struggle against the Pittsburgh zone on offense and the Panthers gradually made the Hoos pay on the other end of the floor. Mouhamadou Gueye was the only player on the floor to score stretching from the 5:50 mark until less than a minute remained on the clock. Gueye hit a three-pointer, made a second-chance layup, and made a free throw to bring Pittsburgh within one point at 52-51 with 2:56 left.
Two minutes later, an offensive rebound led to Onyebuchi Ezeakudo making a three-pointer from the right wing to give Pittsburgh a one-point lead with 52 seconds on the clock. Armaan Franklin’s deep three missed badly and UVA was forced to foul. Jamarius Burton, who finished with 11 points, made both free throws to extend the Pitt lead to 56-52 with 25 seconds remaining.
After a Pittsburgh foul, Virginia faced a seemingly insurmountable four-point deficit with 15 seconds left. Jayden Gardner got the in-bounds pass from Kihei Clark and finished the layup through contact and John Hugley was whistled for a foul. Gardner converted the free throw to make it 56-55 with 9.7 seconds on the clock.
Pittsburgh then committed a fatal error, failing to get the ball in bounds, leading to a five-second violation. Virginia got the ball back and suddenly had a chance to win the game.
UVA’s ensuing play did not go as planned, but it led to a decent look from three by Taine Murray that missed long off the back iron. Kadin Shedrick caused some chaos on the rebound, which allowed Jayden Gardner to snatch it out of the air. Gardner collected the ball on the baseline and immediately put up a fadeaway jumper. The ball bounced off the rim, hit the glass, and then hit the rim two more times before eventually falling in with an extremely friendly JPJ roll.
John Paul Jones Arena went wild as Gardner’s shot fell to give Virginia a 57-56 lead with only 0.9 seconds remaining. Pittsburgh called a timeout, which probably should have been called a few seconds earlier when the Panthers were struggling to get the ball in bounds.
Out of the timeout, Pitt attempted to pass the ball up the floor to get a last-second shot off, but Kadin Shedrick tipped William Jeffress’ in-bounds pass and Kihei Clark easily intercepted it to seal the victory.
With the win, Virginia improves to 6-3 on the season and UVA won its ACC opener for the 14th season in a row. Up next, the Cavaliers head to Harrisonburg for an in-state matchup against JMU on Tuesday at 6:30pm.