Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and he brought Cavalier coach Dave Leitao the biggest gift of all...an ACC win.
The Cavalier basketball team this year had been at best inconsistent and at worst, embarrassing.
Still, that didn't stop junior Jamil Tucker from hitting the biggest shot of his career in the final minute of regulation to tie the game up with a long-distance shot that stunned the crowd of the Thriller Dome.
Georgia Tech appeared to have the game in hand with a three-point lead a chance at the free throw line with around 45 seconds remaining to put the game away. A miss by freshman Iman Shumpert, gave Virginia new life.
A quick two by freshman sensation Sylven Landesberg cut it to one and after Lewis Clinch made two free throws Tucker had an opportunity that he was not going to relinquish.
In overtime, Virginia was led by its new leader Landesberg. The former McDonald's All-American (the first at UVA since Majestic Mapp) had been bumped around in the second half, limiting his productivity after a 14-point first half performance. After regulation though, Landesberg did what clutch players do, making big plays at key times.
Landesburg converted on a big three-point play late in the game, which gave Virginia the edge going into the final 1:08 of overtime en route to a team high of 26 points.
After a Gani Lawal miss on the other side of the court for the Yellow Jackets, Virginia had an opportunity to take time off the clock.
However, a Cavalier turnover led to a breakaway dunk and redemption for Lawal that tied the game at 84-84.
Virginia, showing an unprecedented amount of resiliency, fought back by pressing the ball before the Yellow Jacket defense was set.
Calvin Baker, perhaps the most maligned Cavalier player for his erratic play, went from goat to hero in a matter of a few feet as his lay-in gave Virginia the lead back.
It would prove to be the second year in a row that Baker would provide the game-winning shot for the Cavaliers in Atlanta.
Virginia forward Mike Scott added two more free throws after a Georgia Tech miss with 1.9 seconds to seal the game and give the Cavaliers the improbable 88-84 victory.
This marks the first time since 1994 that the Cavaliers were able to win their ACC opener on the road and the first time since 1996 the Cavaliers have won any overtime game on the road.
For a team that almost everyone picked to finish in the basement of the ACC, Virginia sure showed the poise and discipline of a seasoned and experienced team that can surprise some people this season.
More impressively was the performance of some of the unexpected heroes for Virginia.
Mustapha Farrakhan had the game of his career with 12 points in 16 minutes. This is from a guy who had barely sniffed the court last season and when he did hit the hardwood he typically look lost and shaky.
Confidence has come for Farrakhan, after scoring 10 points in the previous game against Hampton, it appears that coach Leitao may have known what he was doing giving Farrakhan the chance to start at the beginning of the year.
He may not have been ready then but Farrakhan appears ready now to help bring a threat at the shooting guard position and that confidence has spread to the rest of his young team.
Tucker and Baker, two of the more experienced players, busted out with 15 and 13 points respectively. Showing up when they were desperately needed.
Still, individual performances mean far less than the team performance in this one.
Virginia's problem this year and most of last year, has been a lack of cohesion.
Players were not working together, they were not communicating, and the result was a disjointed and disappointing mess.
Tonight the Cavaliers played as a unit, they used team defense to hold off a talented Georgia Tech team and they made the extra pass to score when they simply needed a bucket.
Time will tell what this win means for the Cavaliers but one thing is for certain.
Virginia can hold their heads high knowing that they did not win this game because they were more talented but simply because they wanted it more.
The Cavaliers played with a passion that had not been seen in disappointing losses to Liberty and Auburn.
Maybe the Cavaliers are a year or two away from really making a statement in the ACC, but tonight showed us that this young Virginia team of this year is not going to roll over for anyone.
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