Tomas Woldetensae found the ball in his hands as the shot clock wound down early in the second half. The first year Wahoo threw a high pass to Mamadi Diakite, who caught the pass above his head, and without hesitation, released a high-arching shot to beat the buzzer. The 10-footer from Diakite clanged off the rim this time, but the last two seconds of this Virginia possession felt eerily similar to the final few ticks of a game earlier this calendar year. If college basketball were a book, this would have been the greatest use of foreshadowing in the history of literature.
The Carsen Edwards Show
For the last 18 minutes and change of Virginia’s Tuesday night’s contest against Vermont at John Paul Jones Arena, the opponent felt more like Purdue; the venue more like the KFC Yum! Center. If you spent last March living under a rock, Carsen Edwards had himself a night against this very Virginia program on March 31st, 2019. The man wearing the number three scored 42 points in the South Regional Final in Louisville, including nine triples. As Carsen Edwards threw one 30-footer after another in the second half, analysts- both in Central Virginia and nationally- spoke about how the last time we saw a shooting display like that, it came from BYU superstar Jimmer Fredette back in 2011. Now, the last time we saw a night like Anthony Lamb’s last night was that fabled night in Louisville where Edwards stepped over the half-court line and drilled one after another from future four-point range.
As the senior from Rochester continued to throw the rock in the ocean, the offense of the Cavaliers answered over and over again. Some questions arose before the season’s beginning as to whether Mamadi Diakite was capable of consistently being “the guy” on the offensive end. Those questions have been answered this far in the season. As the night dragged on and the intensity ratcheted up, the native of Conakry, Guinea confidently drilled shot after shot- not at the same rate which Lamb did, but enough to help the Wahoos survive the onslaught of the green and gold. Kihei Clark calmly paced the team through the unmistakable pressure that a back-and-forth game against a mid-major opponent presents. Clark’s chemistry with big man Jay Huff is undeniable to even a casual basketball fan. In additional news, Huff continued to be a lot taller than everyone else (insert sarcastic reaction).
Then things appeared to really come full circle.
With just under 24 seconds to play in regulation, Anthony Lamb and Mamadi Diakite scrambled toward the sideline after a loose ball. Lamb got there first, and after one dribble by the Vermont superstar, the long, pesky arms of Diakite slapped the ball out of Lamb’s hands. The ball rolled out of bounds and was awarded to the Catamounts on the floor. The officials went to the monitor to determine who the ball last contacted on its way into the first row. The action that unfolded on this play was eerily similar to what happened in overtime on April 8th, 2019- a night that still doesn’t feel real to many Virginians. In the National Championship game, De’Andre Hunter swatted the basketball away from Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti. After a review that seemingly took the rest of the night, the officials determined that the ball slid down the hand of Moretti after Hunter swiped at it and jarred it loose- a decision that caused great uproar and confusion from some. As footage was played on the center-hung video board of John Paul Jones Arena, those in attendance began to feel déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say. However, unlike that April night halfway across the country, the call on the floor stood this time around.
Virginia was up by five points at this juncture of Tuesday night’s game, and a few free throws by Braxton Key and Kihei Clark respectively put the game to rest. The seventh-ranked Cavaliers had dodged an upset from the gold standard of America East Conference. But it was the poetic twists and turns of last night’s game that will be remembered by Virginia fans far longer than the box score.
On Tuesday, Anthony Lamb couldn’t miss for the majority of the second half, just like Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. Mamadi Diakite threw a rushed shot from above his head at the basket to beat the clock, just like he did against Purdue. The men in stripes reviewed an out-of-bounds call in the final minute to see if the ball slid off the hand of Vermont’s Anthony Lamb, just like they did with Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti.
The last two aforementioned plays yielded the opposite results of their March and April counterparts, respectively. Diakite missed his shot and Virginia did not get the ball after the review. Still, the outcome of Tuesday night’s game ended the same way as last year’s unforgettable tournament run did- Virginia exorcising some America East demons.
Oh, and just like that very title game in Minneapolis, Virginia doesn’t win without Braxton Key.
Everything about Tuesday night’s game felt like March Madness. The runs, the upset alert and the unconscious shooting of a star player all gave it the feel of a 3-seed from the ACC battling a tough 14-seed from the America East.
But as our good friend Jon Rothstein says, “THIS IS ONLY NOVEMBER.”