Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 29, 2014

Cavaliers re-established high standard

By RACHEL COHEN, AP Sports Writer
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell arrived at Virginia to join a program that hadn’t made the Sweet Sixteen since they were toddlers.

They leave a team that won ACC regular-season and tournament titles, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, and packed Madison Square Garden with fans decked out in their orange and blue.

Their careers ended Friday with a 61-59 loss to fourth-seeded Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen.

“This is how we wanted to leave the program: We wanted to leave it in a better spot than when we came in,” Harris said, eyes red.

He and Malcolm Brogdon both scored 17 points, but they shot a combined 10 of 28. The Cavaliers were 20 of 57 overall (35.1 percent).

Few top-seeded teams have encountered an opponent this formidable in the Sweet Sixteen. The Spartans (29-8) struggled with a spate of mid-season injuries, but now that they’re healthy, they’re a favorite to win it all.

Branden Dawson missed nine games with a broken right hand, and he proved again Friday the difference he makes on the court. The junior had 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Adreian Payne added 16 points for Michigan State, and his 3-pointer with 1:29 left gave the Spartans the lead for good at 54-51.

After a miss by Brogdon, the 6-foot-10 Payne turned point guard, finding Dawson with a line drive lob pass for a dunk with 52 seconds to go.

Virginia (30-7) trailed 51-44 with just over 4 minutes left but scored seven straight points to tie the game.

It was the kind of run the Cavaliers have made all season.

“We beat a hell of a team,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

But Virginia met its match in a program making its eighth regional final appearance since 1999 under Izzo. That’s the kind of tradition Tony Bennett is trying to build with the Cavaliers.

“Big shoes to fill,” he said of his seniors, “but I think they have established this program, and I think it’s going in the right way.”

Forward Anthony Gill rolled his ankle, and that slowed him on offense, where the Cavaliers struggled to get easy points inside, and on defense, where they needed all the help they could get against Dawson.

Harris hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to pull Virginia within 56-54, but Payne made both free throws on the other end to make it a two-possession game.

The Cavaliers were left to look back on this season’s accomplishments and look ahead to what they hope is more seasons like this.

“I’m thankful that for four years I got to be a part of watching them grow from boys to men and turn our program around,” Bennett said. “And I always tell them: ‘A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.’ They left a legacy that they won’t forget.

“It stings now and it feels empty, and it’s a team you don’t want the season to end because you don’t want to stop coaching them.”