Tony Bennett’s Virginia team doesn’t win a lot of games with ease, but the No. 6 Cavaliers have found ways to methodically grind out wins throughout the entire season. Virginia did it once again on Saturday, as the Cavaliers held off upset-minded Pitt, 51-48, in an ACC Tournament semifinal contest in Greensboro.
Virginia (27-6) advanced to its first ACC title game since 1994 with the win as they still hold out hope for the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cavaliers led for the final 21:45 of Saturday’s win over Pitt — despite never leading by more than eight points — as Virginia’s ball-control offense and steady team defense allowed them to slowly squeeze the Panthers out of the game.
Virginia shot 21-for-45 from the field (46 percent) and 6 of 7 from the free throw line as the Cavalier defense held Pitt to 36 percent shooting from the field.
Pitt freshman point guard James Robinson’s steal and tough, contested lay-up with 11 seconds left cut Virginia’s lead to a point at 49-48, but Anthony Gill made a pair of free throws to get to the final score. Bennett opted to have Virginia play defense instead of fouling on the final possession with his team up three and he was rewarded by reserve sophomore forward Justin Anderson blocking Robinson’s tying three-point attempt to seal the victory.
Senior Joe Harris led Virginia with 12 points on the afternoon while Malcoln Brogdon (10 points) and Gill (10 points) also finished in double-figures.
Pitt (25-9) was led by Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, as the seniors each had 15 points in the loss.
Virginia isn’t the sexiest team to pick to go to the Final Four, but they’ve won 15 of their last 16 games — with the overtime loss at Maryland last Sunday being their only loss — and with their ability to hold on to the ball and take good shots, they make a five-point lead seem like a 15-point lead. As long as the Cavaliers can dictate the pace of the game and slow things down, they’ll be a very tough out in the tournament.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.