RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Sure, No. 18 Virginia was glad to win a game for the first time in nearly three weeks.
But Saturday’s 70-55 victory at North Carolina State was more about something simpler: rebuilding confidence and rhythm by making shots.
“We talked about just keep playing the defense to keep you in there,” coach Tony Bennett said, “and sooner or later — hopefully — we’ll knock down some shots, get some different kind of looks. That’s what we’ve been talking about in all these games.”
Freshman Kyle Guy scored 19 points for the Cavaliers (19-9, 9-7 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 49 percent and made 11 of 16 3-pointers to snap a four-game losing skid lowlighted by three particularly ugly offensive performances.
Virginia is built around defense and efficient offense, a style that grinds down opponents in slow-paced and often low-scoring games. But in the recent skid, Virginia just flat couldn’t shoot and failed to crack even 56 points in the past three games.
That’s why doing something as routine as knocking down a midrange jumper was a big deal Saturday.
Bennett said the team took a day off, then spent much of the ensuing practice days with a heavy emphasis on shooting and fundamentals.
It also helped that the Cavaliers were playing the Wolfpack (15-15, 4-13), whose defense is far and away the worst in the league according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency stats (108.1 points per 100 possessions).
Guy got things started with 14 points and four first-half 3s.
“I think he singlehandedly kind of got our rhythm back for us, for us shooting the ball,” junior Isaiah Wilkins said. “After he got hot, a couple of other guys got hot and we felt like were back to normal.”
It was Virginia’s longest losing streak since dropping nine straight during Bennett’s first season in 2009-10. But the Cavaliers led 35-21 by halftime, pushed that to 19 early after halftime and led by double figures nearly the entire second half.
N.C. State shot 32 percent in the final regular-season home game for coach Mark Gottfried. The school announced earlier this month that he won’t return next year after a once-promising season completely unraveled.
“Our fans have been great,” Gottfried said. “It has been amazing. Everywhere in town I go, it has been great. People are so positive and appreciative and all of that. I just hope we can somehow do some more positive things (in the ACC Tournament).”
Virginia: Virginia needed this offensive performance badly after shooting just 32 percent in the last three games, including 10 of 52 (19 percent) from 3-point range.
N.C. State: N.C. State finished its home regular-season schedule at 2-7 in ACC games, one of many reasons a disappointing season that ultimately cost Gottfried his job.
N.C. State managed to get within 59-51, but London Perrantes (16 points, 10 assists) buried a 3-pointer with 5:04 left. Then Devon Hall (18 points) put back his own miss to push the margin back to 13.
Bennett had to adjust his rotation, starting with bringing Wilkins off the bench for the first time due to strep throat. Big man Jack Salt battled a bad back and Darius Thompson didn’t play due to an illness.
GUY’S STARRING ROLE
Guy didn’t score in the past two games while playing just 2 minutes in Monday’s overtime home loss to Miami before hitting five 3s against the Wolfpack.
“I knew I was going to have an opportunity to play more,” Guy said. “But like I tell everybody, if Coach doesn’t think I should be playing, then that’s fine. I’m fine with that. As long as it’s best for the team, that’s fine.”
SMITH’S HOME FINALE?
Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. scored 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting with five turnovers for N.C. State. The touted point guard is considered a likely one-and-done prospect but hasn’t officially announced an NBA decision.
Virginia: The Cavaliers get a quick turnaround to host No. 8 North Carolina on Monday.
N.C. State: N.C. State plays its regular-season finale Wednesday at Clemson.