For Virginia, it was an unusual weapon that got the Cavaliers out of trouble: their offense. Recovering from an early 15-point, first-half deficit, the fifth seed hung on to beat 12th seed UNC Wilmington 76-71 to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
London Perrantes led Virginia with 24 points and Marial Shayok added 23 off of the bench. Chris Flemmings was the high man for UNC Wilmington with 18 points, leading four Seahawks in double figures.
UNC Wilmington comes out blazing, Virginia catches Seahawks by halftime
After a slow start by both teams, it was the 12th-seeded Seahawks, one of the highest scoring teams in the country, averaging 85.2 points per game, who began to flex their offensive muscle, going on a 11-4 run to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 15-9 lead on three three-point field goals, two by Denzel Ingram and one by Ambrose Mosley.
The run was extended courtesy of three more long-distance shots, a pair by Mosley and another by Ingram to give UNC Wilmington their largest lead of the game at 26-11. That's when Virginia began to lock in defensively and surprisingly, their offense took over.
A 15-2 run over a 3:41 stretch cut the UNCW lead to 28-26, Perrantes and Shayok combining for 10 of the 15 points. The Cavaliers would finally take their first lead of the game with 49 seconds to play in the first half on a Darius Thompson layup. That would be the score heading into halftime.
Virginia breaks open close game midway through second half, holds on to advance
The second half would see four more lead changes as Virginia took their largest lead of the game to that point on a Kyle Guy long-distance bomb to give the fifth seed a 38-33 lead. Ingram responded immediately with UNC Wilmington's seventh three of the game to cut the lead to two.
After Mosley hit yet another three, UNCW would take their final lead of the game at 45-44. Virginia would go on a 10-0 run, increasing their lead to 54-45 on a Thompson free throw. The lead grew to 10 courtesy of a Perrantes triple, Virginia going ahead 61-51 with 7:58 left to play.
The Seahawks would make one final push, a 7-0 run trimming the deficit to 61-58 on an Ingram layup. Shayok answered with a three to put Virginia back up six and although UNC Wilmington would get to within two on a Flemmings triple to only trail 71-69, they got no closer as Virginia hit three free throws to seal the victory.
C.J. Bryce, the CAA Player of the Year, was just 2-11 from the field and scored just eight points.
Shayok: "I just wanted to provide energy off the slow start". "Personally, I just didn't want to go out like that, and I knew my teammates didn't either. So I just wanted to come out and provide what I could on both ends and just bring a spark."
Perrantes: "I think we had the last run". "Obviously, we knew at the beginning that they were going to make some tough shots. The point guard made some big shots with a hand in his face. Everybody seemed to have made shots. So I kind of just knew that, hopefully, they were going to start missing and we were going to start making them."
Mosley: "In the game we tried everything to stop their run". "It's hard because you want to win every game; especially having an easy lead like we did in the first half."
The Cavaliers face fourth seed Florida on Saturday evening for a spot in the Sweet 16.