ORLANDO, Fla. — Virginia, down 15 points in the first half and ahead by only two in the final minute, wasn’t going to be that proverbial No. 5 seed to be upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — at least if Marial Shayok had anything to do with it.
“Personally, I just didn’t want to go out like that,” said Shayok, whose shot with 25 seconds left helped the Cavaliers hold off 12th-seeded UNC Wilmington, 76-71, at the Amway Center yesterday. “And I knew my teammates didn’t either.”
UNCW (29-6) nearly pulled off a 12/5 upset, going ahead 26-11 before Virginia (23-10) ended the first half on a 16-1 run for a 30-29 lead.
The Cavaliers, in turn, saw a 10-point lead dwindle to three twice. They answered each time. And when the lead was down to only two after Chris Flemmings’ three-pointer with 1:13 to play, Virginia again had an answer.
“I think we had the last run,” said Virginia’s London Perrantes, who had 24 points, including three in the final two minutes. “We knew at the beginning that they were going to make some tough shots . . . Everybody seemed to have made shots. I kind of just knew that hopefully they were going to start missing and we were going to start making them.”
Virginia, which made the Elite Eight last year and has won in the opening round four years in a row, will face fourth-seeded Florida, which trailed in the second half but pulled away for a relatively easy 80-65 win over No. 13 East Tennessee State yesterday. Tomorrow’s winner will advance to play at Madison Square Garden in the East Regional next week.
Shayok reset his career high with 23 points, going 4-for-4 at the line as Virginia got 21 free throws in the second half. Freshman guard Ty Jerome of New Rochelle had five points off the bench.
UNCW, which led fourth-seeded Duke at the half last year only to fall short, dropped to 2-38 all-time against ACC opponents. Despite the loss, coach Kevin Keatts took pride in how persistently his team kept after the Cavaliers.
“We’re disappointed, but when we walk out of here, we’re going to walk out with our heads high,” Keatts said, “because the effort these guys have given me all year has been unbelievable.”