Singletary steals victory from jaws of defeat [March 25]

Singletary steals victory from jaws of defeat [March 25]

Even if the UVA men’s basketball team doesn’t add the first ever College Basketball Invitational (CBI) trophy to the case, Sean Singletary has already added a more prestigious memento in his signature collection of Cavalier memories: The Steal.


“In the end, everybody can have who they got, and I’ll take Sean Singletary,” said UVA Coach Dave Leitao. “He just continues to rewrite a story that’s already a bestseller in the annals of Virginia basketball.”

The game appeared a lost cause with 39 seconds left, with ODU up 74-70. UVA guard Calvin Baker had just missed a 3-pointer, and the game became a fouling affair, a miserable prolonging of a loss that would end a disappointing Cavalier season.

But then Singletary played like Singletary. A drive yielded two made foul shots for him, and luck had it that an 86 percent free throw shooter for ODU missed one of two. Singletary rushed down and somehow banked in a 3-pointer to tie the game up with 23 seconds left.

The score 75-75, the shot clock off, Old Dominion point guard Brandon Johnson brings the ball up the court for what was to be the final play of the game—all UVA could do was make a stop and pray for overtime. But with six seconds left, just as Johnson is about to crossover to initiate the play, Singletary’s hand whips the ball away and Sean is gone on a breakaway lay-up. Bucket. The trailing Johnson fouls futilely. And one.

The sequence culminated Singletary’s eight-point scoring burst in the final 30 seconds, and UVA held on in the final 3.6 seconds to win 80-76. It moves the Cavaliers, 17-15 on the year, to the CBI’s semifinals. They will play Bradley on Wednesday night in the John Paul Jones Arena.

By the end of the game, it didn’t matter that a 15,000 capacity venue had a mere 6,460 in attendance—by the second half, the JPJ was somehow as loud as it had been since the Duke game in 2007, when Singletary hit the biggest shot of his career, lifting UVA to an overtime win against the hated Blue Devils. But then there were 15,169 in attendance. How could almost 9,000 fewer make so much noise? Perhaps cheering volume is inversely proportional to net worth: CBI officials sold lower level tickets, usually taken by wealthy season ticket holders, for $10 a pop to the general public. The crowd last night certainly was more willing to get on its feet and stay there.

Much of the reason they were on their feet, of course, was the thrilling game, with seven lead changes in the second half. Singletary finished with 22 points, 10 assists, and the admiration of just about everyone in attendance.

“When you’re putting a lot into it, and you have momentum and you’re playing with energy, then things like that happen,” said Singletary, who averages 20 points a game. “When I look back on my career, this’ll probably be one of the bright spots,” he said, before giving credit to his teammates Jamil Tucker, Mamadi Diane and Laurynas Mikalauskas.

“It was just incredible for [Singletary] to just to do such a great thing on defense,” said Tucker, who netted 11 points himself in the second half to go with a team high six rebounds. “That was just incredible to me.”

The finish was in sharp contrast to the way the game started. During the first half, the atmosphere at the JPJ felt like a cheap facsimile of its ACC peak. The unique opening animation for each conference foe returned to the generic version used for foes like Elon. The upper deck was almost completely empty, the student section was a fraction of its usual size, media row was a ghost town. Getting the game started didn’t help much—UVA fell behind 10-0 in the first two and a half minutes and ended the half down eight points to a team from the Colonial league after shooting a horrid 17 percent on 3 pointers. The halftime show featured a game of musical chairs.

But when the Cavaliers opened the second half with a 14-2 tear by making steals, getting rebounds and hitting shots, the sleeping Wahoo giant came to life. The crowd was so loud you couldn’t hear the ref’s whistle blow, and Old Dominion had to call two timeouts to try and calm things down. Suddenly everything was more exciting—crowd shots during timeouts on the Jumbotron while classic rock bellowed through the JPJ’s extraordinary sound system were more entertaining than any gimmick contest or stunt performer. Suddenly it didn’t matter that the Cavs were playing in a third-tier tournament after having been rejected by the NCAA and the NIT. It was just a good ole basketball nailbiter, fun to watch no matter what emblems were on the opposing jerseys.

“It seems to be in style to be a little bit cynical about postseason opportunities like this,” said ODU Coach Blaine Taylor after the game. “And boy I tell you what, you had a hard time watching that game thinking it wasn’t an experience that the kids didn’t enjoy and wasn’t worthwhile.”

“In the end, everybody can have who they got, and I’ll take Sean Singletary,” said UVA Coach Dave Leitao. “He just continues to rewrite a story that’s already a bestseller in the annals of Virginia basketball.”

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