Wake Forest played the spoiler's role to the hilt Thursday night.
In what looked like an impossible assignment, playing at Virginia on the night of coach Terry Holland's final home game, the Deacons came up with a major surprise in the form of a 51-50 upset victory.Not only did it take off some of the evening's lustre, it also may have put the squeeze on the Cavaliers' NCAA Tournament hopes. They dropped to 6-7 in the ACC and 17-9 overall with the loss, and they're faced with a tough season-ender Saturday at Maryland.
Wake Forest isn't going anywhere after the season, but the Deacons took a major step forward under first-year coach Dave Odom.
The victory was their second straight in the ACC after 11 losses, only their third road win in the ACC since 1985 and their first win in University Hall after 12 straight defeats.
It was a bittersweet evening for Odom, Holland's assistant for seven seasons and one of his closest friends.
``There's a side of me that goes out to Terry,' Odom said. ``After the game at our place (a 71-70 Virginia overtime win) he shook hands with me and said 'I'm sorry.'
``It wasn't that he was sorry he won, but sorry for the way he won and we lost (a miracle shot by Bryant Stith at the buzzer). After this game I said the same thing to him. I'm sorry he couldn't go out a winner in this situation.
``But I'm happier for our team than sad for Terry, and I'm proud to have one victory over him.'
Holland, who is not an emotional sort, shrugged off the loss.
``You hate to lose, but the loss didn't seem any different than any other loss. If we had to lose, though, I guess it's best that we lost to Dave Odom and Wake Forest.'
Wake won because it played solid basketball, particularly on defense, kept its poise when it could have folded and shot the ball decently in the second half.
Virginia lost because it couldn't drop the ball down a well. The Cavs suffered through a 30.8 percent shooting night. Stith managed only seven points and was 3-for-13. John Crotty hit 13, but shot only 5-of-16. Only Kenny Turner, with 16 points, picked up any offensive slack.
``I think maybe our guys were trying too hard,' Holland said.
Despite their offensive woes, the Cavs seemed to be in charge with a 41-31 lead and 10:37 to go. But from there, their offense evaporated.
With the score 44-35, Anthony Tucker took over offensively for Wake, scoring the next eight Deacon points and 12 of their last 14.
Tucker's dunk with 6:04 left brought Wake within 46-45. Neither team scored until 1:50 later, when Wake's Sam Ivy slammed home a lob pass from Derrick McQueen for Wake's first lead of the game.
Virginia countered with two free throws by Matt Blundin to regain the lead, but Tucker answered with a shot from the baseline.
On the Cavs' possession, Crotty missed a 3-pointer, Wake rebounded and went into a spread offense to kill some clock. Tucker's beautiful baseline drive that ended in a reverse layup gave the Deacs a 51-48 lead with two minutes left.
Turner hit Virginia's first field goal in more than six minutes with 1:49 to go to trim the lead to a point.
Neither team scored again, but the drama wasn't over. Wake worked off more clock with another spread offense and got a new shot clock on Crotty's foul.
The Deacs still had to shoot, and Chris King put up an air ball with about 20 seconds to go. Virginia rebounded and rushed downcourt, looking for Stith.
He got the ball, but there was no miracle this time. Starting a move to the basket against Wake's 3-2 zone, he stepped on the end line with six seconds left.
Virginia had to foul twice to get Wake in the bonus situation and Tucker missed a one-and-one. Blundin rebounded and called time with two seconds left.
On the inbounds pass, Blundin's bullet went through Stith's hands, the ball rolled on the floor and the horn sounded.
Tucker finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds for Wake, while King added 14 points and nine rebounds and a fine defensive job all night on Stith.
``When they were up 10 (actually 39-31) there was a TV time out that helped us,' Odom said. ``We were able to get Tucker out because he wasn't playing well.
``He has a tendency to get soft and not be aggressive. But we regrouped him, put him back in and he gave us the spark we needed.'
Neither team generated much offense in the first half. After the Cavs rode an initial wave of emotion to a 7-0 lead, things settled down and neither offense was sharp.
Wake had ample opportunity to cut the lead, but poor shooting (32.1 percent for the half) prevented it. Virginia built a 20-10 lead, on the strength of Crotty's 11 points, with 8:45 left.
From there, the Cavs withered, scoring just six more points in the half. Wake managed only nine, but King's jumper with five seconds left trimmed the lead to 26-19 and left the Deacons within range.
Just enough range, as it turned out.
The tributes to Holland were many and varied. Handed out before the game were masks that featured Holland on one side and lookalike Tom Smith, the Food Lion president, on the other. Smith attended the game, his first visit to University Hall, and was mobbed by autograph seekers when he came in about 30 minutes before tipoff.
About 25 former players were on hand, including such past standouts as Rick Carlisle, Jimmy Miller, Othell Wilson, Kenton Edelin, Marc Iavaroni, Lee Raker and Wally Walker.