TALLHASSEE, Fla. — Virginia couldn’t buy a 3-point basket. The Cavaliers turned the ball over an alarming amount.
Yet, somehow, Tony Bennett’s team had a legitimate chance to beat the No. 9 team in the country in the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
The upset bid fell short in the final seconds as the Cavaliers relinquished a late lead after committing numerous sloppy turnovers. Florida State ultimately prevailed 54-50 in a strange game that featured poor shooting, good defense and the third straight Virginia comeback effort that fell short.
UVA has lost three consecutive games for the first time since losing four straight from Feb. 12-20, 2017.
The first half played out oddly.
The Cavaliers (11-5, 3-3 ACC) fell behind 12-4 early as the Seminoles nailed their first four shots. Virginia rallied, however, as the defense tightened and 2-point shots started to fall.
The Cavaliers took a 24-20 lead with 4:15 left in the first half without a single point at the free-throw line or from beyond the 3-point line. The Cavaliers made 12 shots from inside the arc, attacking the rim with their talented frontcourt standouts.
Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff and Braxton Key were all able to find room in the lane to finish scoring opportunities.
All three were impressive, maneuvering around defenders and finishing with a soft shooting touch.
Unfortunately for Virginia, turnovers were aplenty in the final 4:15 of the first half. The Cavaliers committed six turnovers in a row at one point, failing to even put shots on the rim despite solid shooting for most of the night.
The Seminoles took advantage, ending the half on an 11-0 run to take a 31-24 lead into the break. Devin Vassell and Anthony Polite were the catalysts for the versatile Seminoles, tallying 22 of the team’s first-half points.
Entering the night, UVa was 0-4 this season when trailing at halftime. The Cavaliers, however, responded to tie the game or take the lead in the second half in their past three losses when trailing at the break.
They kept that streak alive Wednesday, storming back to take a 37-35 lead with 11:27 left in the game. Kihei Clark snatched a pass, sprinted out in transition and pulled up for a short jumper. Before Clark’s bucket, the Cavaliers relied on baskets inside the arc and a fortunate shot from Tomas Woldetensae, who banked in a 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers their first 3-point make of the game.
After stellar defense held Florida State to just four points in the first nine minutes of the second half, the Seminoles started to find a better offensive flow. They came back and regained the lead.
A turnover sent Casey Morsell into transition, where he was met with a bunch of contact and a rejection. The blocked shot turned into an M.J. Walker 3-pointer to give the Seminoles a 40-37 lead.
FSU extended its lead to 44-39 with 7:34 remaining. UVa answered in a hostile environment. The Cavaliers went on a 7-0 run, started by a Woldetensae 3-pointer from the left wing that didn’t use glass this time. Heading into the final media timeout, Virginia led 46-44.
The back-and-forth affair continued, this time with the Seminoles landing the knockout blow. Anthony Polite tied the game at 47 with a 3-pointer with 2:27 remaining. UVa committed an offensive foul before the Seminoles drew a foul on the other end. Trent Forrest hit two free throws to take a 49-47 lead.
Woldetensae then struggled to break the press, committing a 10-second violation. FSU delivered the dagger from Vassell with 14 seconds remaining. He hit a corner 3-pointer to give the Seminoles a 52-47 lead. Woldetensae answered with a 3-pointer, but the Seminoles hit two free throws late to clinch it.