"That's not our brand of basketball," point guard Jontel Evans said. "He told us he didn't know who was out there."
The latter with good reason. State (21-11) desperately needed another quality victory to enhance its NCAA tournament credentials.
That win came at Virginia's expense, 67-64.
The Cavaliers (22-9) still figure to earn their first NCAA bid since 2007 when the field is released Sunday. They boast seven victories over teams ranked among the top 100 on the Rating Percentage Index updated daily at CollegeRPI.com, and only three of those came at home.
But Virginia will enter postseason on a 3-5 slide and on the heels of yet another taut defeat. Friday marked the Cavaliers' seventh loss by three points or fewer — the exceptions were setbacks of 18 and 12 points at North Carolina and at Clemson.
The issue in most of those defeats was offense or depth. Not Friday.
Yes, Virginia is down to seven scholarship players, and yes the Cavaliers missed 10-of-12 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. But Virginia shot a respectable 43.4 percent and got a combined 19 points from secondary sources Akil Mitchell and Evans.
The Cavaliers even outrebounded the Wolfpack 35-28, a stark reversal from the teams' regular-season meeting. State outboarded Virginia by 17 that night in Raleigh, only to lose 61-60 when Evans hounded Lorenzo Brown into a 3-point miss on the final possession.
The Wolfpack was far more efficient Friday, shooting 54 percent from the field, its best against an ACC rival this season. Most troubling to the Cavaliers, it was the most accurate shooting against them this year.
"They got some easy points in the paint in the first half when they went on that run," guard Sammy Zeglinski said.
The run was 14-0, and all but two of the points came inside.
Brown was exceptional with 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds. But it was forwardC.J. Lesliewho took over the game with 19 points and 14 rebounds, the latter his most ever in an ACC contest.
Leslie, a sophomore, did most of his business against Mitchell.
"I should have done a lot better," Mitchell said. "I feel I let my team down in defending him."
Leslie made 9-of-11 shots, most from near the rim, scoring 10 points in State's aforementioned first-half binge. Moreover, he assisted on the game-turning sequence.
With State leading 55-49, Brown missed a jumper and Richard Howell a tip, sending the ball along the left baseline. Mitchell appeared to secure the rebound, but Leslie ripped it from his arms, sending Mitchell to the floor in the process.
"I felt like there was a foul," Mitchell said. "I really didn't see him coming."
Maybe it was. And maybe Evans fouled Brown on that final play in Raleigh. Doesn't matter.
When Leslie gained possession, he found Scott Wood open deep on the left wing. His 3-pointer was true, and the Wolfpack had its largest lead at 58-49.
A Mike Scott flurry — he scored a game-high 23 points — and poor State free-throw shooting drew Virginia within two, but late jumpers by Scott, Evans and Joe Harris went begging.
"We just weren't able to get that one stop," Zeglinski said.
"That's how it's definitely going to be," Evans said of dramatic finishes. "Everybody's revved up trying to get into the NCAA tournament."
Virginia's ACC tournament ended shy of the semifinals for the 17th consecutive year, astonishing futility given that each of the conference's other 11 programs has reached at least one semifinal since 2006.
An NCAA bid would erase that sting. Bennett will gather the Cavaliers to watch the selection show together.
"I think we've done enough," Zeglinski said.
"I feel good about it," Evans said. "But you never know."
David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP