RALEIGH, N.C. -- While Virginia coach Tony Bennett huddled with his assistants at halftime the Cavaliers players actively discussed their dilemma. Trailing 35-30 to No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina, the phrase that kept being repeated was, “to get back to doing what we do.”
There was frustration, yet it didn’t lead to finger pointing. Senior forward Akil Mitchell said he didn’t even yell.
“There was no reason to yell; I yell out there on the floor when everybody needs to hear me and when it’s time to get excited,” Mitchell said. “We needed to settle in and we needed to know that we’d be fine.”
The Cavs know that if they play Sunday against Memphis like they did in the first half Friday, their NCAA tournament stay will end in the Round of 32. They agreed the best thing to come out of their 70-59 win over Coastal Carolina was the relief of getting that first win.
“It’s only two or three players on our team that’s played in the NCAA tournament,” said sophomore forward Justin Anderson, who was scoreless in his NCAA tournament debut. “The expectation level is high; everyone expects you to go out and make every shot. You never factor in the adversity that you may see.”
Virginia got tested more than it expected in the first half when Coastal shredded its vaunted defense. The Chanticleers had eight assists on their first 13 field goals en route to shooting 52 percent for the half. The Cavs twice got caught sleeping on back-door cuts and more often than not had slow rotations that left shooters open.
Halftime allowed them to regroup. They shed their fears of being on the wrong side of history -- becoming the first No. 1 seed in 120 games to lose to a 16-seed -- that guard Malcolm Brogdon admitted was in the back of their minds.
They’ve seen or heard about all of the upsets in the first two days of the tournament and it had an impact on their start.
“We came out with some jitters and it took us a whole half to shake them off,” said Brogdon, who had 14 points. “The jitters are gone. We’ll play a very good team on Sunday like we did tonight and we can’t come out like we did. We have to come out like we did in the second half and impose our will from the beginning.”
Getting back to what the Cavs do best meant playing better defense. Virginia held the Chanticleers to just two field goals for nearly the first 10 minutes of the second half. Those open shots Coastal got with ease were nonexistent after halftime.
Offensively it took sophomore forward Evan Nolte, nicknamed Nol-trey by his teammates, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to expand a three-point lead to 56-48 with 7:11 left. Nolte played just two minutes in the first half, but in the second scored all eight points of his points within a two-minute stretch that broke the game open for the Cavs.
“That’s just kind of my game,” Nolte said. “People ask me where it comes from; that’s what I do in practice.”
Mitchell said Nolte’s baskets “opened up the floodgates” as the Cavs’ lead never dipped below six after that. As they begin preparation for Memphis, Virginia hopes to start on Sunday the way it finished.
“Everyone is here to win,” Nolte said. “The margin of error is so small. We came out flat, and I think we learned from that. On Sunday we’ll come out with an edge and try to punch people in the mouth -- figuratively.”