CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An eerily familiar uneasiness washed over the orange and blue-clad fans scattered throughout the Spectrum Center early in Virginia’s ACC Tournament semifinal loss to Florida State on Friday.
It was, after all, almost exactly one year ago on the same floor that Virginia made history in the most soul-crushing way possible after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 in the history of the men’s NCAA Tournament.
With every dunk 7-foot-4 Florida State center Christ Koumadje barely had to jump for and every 3-pointer that refused to fall, a familiar meme popped up on timelines across UVa’s sphere of Twitter.
You know the one. A dog-like cartoon character is sitting at his desk with a steaming mug of coffee in his paw as flames engulf the office. A Dialogue bubble hovers above his head with the words “This is fine.”
Optimistic tweets with just enough combativeness to remain delightful before the opening tip took a dark turn. There were jokes galore about it being time to start imbibing on adult beverages, and more than a few imploring the Wahoos to wake up.
Even as Kyle Guy’s 3-pointer’s started to fall at the end of the first half and De’Andre Hunter’s post moves began bearing fruit early in the second, Virginia fans were like that cartoon dog, convincing themselves everything was fine even as the flames inched closer.
It’s not like second-half comebacks are foreign to the Cavaliers. They overcame a 10-point halftime deficit in their first game this season against Louisville and survived a seven-point second-half deficit against North Carolina’s high-powered offense.
Just a little more than 24 hours before on the very same floor, Virginia earned its way into Friday’s semifinal by overcoming a two-point halftime deficit against N.C. State.
On Friday, it wasn’t meant to be.
On two occasions, Virginia cut Florida State’s lead to one in the second half, but over the game’s final six minutes, the Cavaliers couldn’t pull any closer than six.
“It’s 40-minute territory, and if you’re not sharp for the majority of those minutes or possessions, then you get beat,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “You get into this part of the postseason and the defense cranks up. Every possession matters, and you’ve got to knock down shots when you get them.”
UVa fans are still sour about how last season ended, and rightfully so.
Every member of the ever-present “Hoo Crew” cheering section carries a scar just as jagged and ugly as the one UVa’s players try to force themselves not to look at every morning in the mirror. They saw the national rankings and felt the surge of hype only to be let down in the most embarrassing of ways.
The Cavaliers don’t believe the Spectrum Center to be cursed, and though he joked Friday that he may have to start, Bennett doesn’t put much stock in moral victories. He is clear on one thing. Virginia is still likely to earn a No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, and they have to quickly leave Friday’s loss in the past.
“These guys have been so sound and so smart all year, but we also realize that we’re susceptible as any team is in these tournaments,” Bennett said. “Sometimes that’s valuable to know instead of thinking you’re invincible.”
The Cavaliers now have to wait for Sunday’s nationally televised selection show to find out where they’ll be seeded and how far from home they’ll have to travel. But they’re guaranteed at least one more game, and that fact alone carries a lot of weight.
“I remember we cut down the nets in the ACC Tournament last year and we didn’t like the way our season ended,” Jerome said, “so this isn’t the end all beat all by any means.”