TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Virginia’s Tony Bennett realizes his team has a huge target on its back. His second-ranked Cavaliers dodged a big upset Wednesday night, rallying in the second half to beat Florida State 59-55 and remain unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The target is only going to get bigger.
Not only is Virginia (23-1) the third team since 2000-01 to win its first 12 ACC games — joining North Carolina (2000-01) and Miami (2012-13) — but after No. 1 Villanova’s 79-75 loss to St. John’s , the Cavaliers have a chance to take over the top spot in the rankings for the first time since the week of Dec. 21, 1982, with a win over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
“That stuff is great. The fan’s get excited but we are in a good quest and race right now,” Bennett said.
Virginia trailed 32-22 at halftime but bounced back by hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers and making all six of its foul shots in the second half. They also committed only one turnover after halftime and held the Seminoles without a field goal for the final 9:01.
The Seminoles (17-6, 6-6) shot 40 percent from the field for the game (18 of 45) and made only two of their last 12.
“They were hitting tough shots and slipping a lot of ball screens in the first half,” said Kyle Guy, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half. “We knew their pressure might wear down. When you see that defense for 40 minutes we are going to eventually get our way.”
Devon Hall led the Cavaliers with 17 points and Ty Jerome added 15.
Virginia’s only lead in the first half was 4-3 on a Hall layup. It would be tied at 9 before the Seminoles went on an 11-4 run. They would lead by as many as 11 (29-18) on Christ Koumadje’s alley-oop dunk off CJ Walker’s assist with 5:54 remaining, but that would be FSU’s last field goal of the half.
“The pack line, it’s definitely hard,” said Phil Cofer, who had nine points. “They’re backing up so much that you don’t know whether it’s a good shot or a bad shot. That’s what kind of messed us up a little bit.”
The Cavaliers regained the lead for good with 7:39 remaining when a De’Andre Hunter dunk made it 48-47 and started an 11-2 run. The Seminoles got within 57-55 when M.J. Walker, who had a team-high 10 points, made a free throw but Virginia put it away on two Hunter free throws.
Virginia: The Cavaliers allowed 32 points in the first half, which ended a string of 15 straight regular-season conference games where they held an opponent under 30 points in the first 20 minutes. It also tied a season high for points allowed in the first half (they allowed 32 against VCU on Nov. 17, 2017).
Florida State: The Seminoles have dropped six straight against Top 5 teams. Their last win came against then-No. 4 North Carolina in the ACC Tournament final in 2012.
Florida State’s Terance Mann, who was averaging 15.9 points in conference play, was just 1 of 4 from the field and scored a season-low three points. It also ended a string where he scored in double figures in nine straight games.
It is the first time since 1980-81 that the Cavaliers have won their first 12 conference games. It is the 13th time in conference history that a team has started 12-0. No team has gone only 18-0 and only Duke in 1998-99 was able to go 16-0.
HE SAID IT
“If there’s one thing about the ACC, you can’t have a pity party. You got to learn from your shortcomings. I thought we put ourselves in a pretty good position against a very good basketball team and came up short,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton.
Virginia: Hosts Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Cavaliers won the first meeting 78-52 on Jan. 3.
Florida State: Travels to Notre Dame on Saturday. The Seminoles are looking for their first win in South Bend, Indiana, in their fourth trip.