RALEIGH, N.C. -- Virginia has thrived on defense all season. Fittingly, the 19th-ranked Cavaliers earned their second Atlantic Coast Conference road win by getting a stop on the final play.
After blowing most of a 10-point lead in the final 6 ½ minutes, the Cavaliers forced North Carolina State's Lorenzo Brown into a tough shot that fell short of the rim to seal a 61-60 win Saturday night.
Mike Scott scored 18 points to lead the Cavaliers (17-3, 4-2 ACC), who took control of the game by shooting 60 percent in the first half then turned away every rally after halftime to hold on.
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Virginia led for all but about three minutes, yet needed to play defense until the horn sounded to win a matchup of teams lurking just behind Duke, Florida State and North Carolina in the league standings.
"Coach [Tony Bennett] told us in the locker room that it's huge to win on the road in the ACC," said Joe Harris, who scored 12 points for Virginia.
"N.C. State is a very good team and this was a great game to play in. The atmosphere was nuts and to come out of here with a win is huge."
Virginia led 55-45 at the 6:31 mark before the Wolfpack pushed back. Scott Wood shook off a game's worth of shooting struggles to make a 3-pointer off a loose rebound to cut the deficit to 61-60 with 46.3 seconds to go, then Sammy Zeglinski missed a step-back jumper with the shot clock winding down to give the ball back to the Wolfpack with a chance to win.
N.C. State called timeout with 7.8 seconds left and set up a play for Brown to round a screen and attack the paint, with Wood waiting in the far corner as an option.
But as Brown rounded the screen from DeShawn Painter, Akil Mitchell jumped out to keep Brown out beyond the arc and funnel him toward the right wing.
Brown's defender, Jontel Evans, recovered and bumped Brown, who had little choice by that point but to try a hurried 3 with Evans and Zeglinski in the vicinity that missed everything.
"We wanted to body up Brown and we did that," Evans said. "We wanted him to take a tough shot and everything worked for us."
This was Virginia's fifth road win of the season, the first time the Cavaliers have done that since the 2000-01 season.
"When you're on the road, you try to steal one," Bennett said, "and that's what we did."
C.J. Leslie scored 17 points to lead the Wolfpack, while Richard Howell had 11 points and a career-high 18 rebounds before fouling out with 1:47 left. N.C. State shot just 40 percent for the game, but got back in it in the second half by holding the Cavaliers to 4-for-18 shooting (22 percent) in the final 20 minutes.
Virginia made up for that by getting to the line 19 times in the second half, making 13.
Regardless, after seeing his players turn in a "phenomenal" effort after Thursday's ugly loss at rival North Carolina, it was a loss that left first-year coach Mark Gottfried feeling sick.
"My heart hurts for my team," Gottfried said. "I really do, because I thought my team played their hearts out. They laid everything they had on the line and I feel bad for them, for my guys. We had a night where we had some great looks and couldn't make a shot."
That was certainly true. Other than his late 3, Wood shot 2-for-10 and 1-for-7 from 3-point range to finish with eight points. Meanwhile, reserve Alex Johnson missed all six of his shots, including a painful sequence in which the 5-foot-10 point guard missed a transition layup off a turnover, then missed another after a scramble in the paint, then followed with a missed 3-pointer on the same possession with about five minutes left.
While no one shot proved costly, N.C. State's players had plenty to look back on and regret as the Cavaliers won their fourth straight in the series.
"We didn't finish it," Wood said. "That's the main thing - no matter what happened, it counts as a loss."