CHARLOTTESVILLE — The anguish on Jay Huff’s face was shared by every Virginia fan here.
Huff had just unleashed an open 3-pointer from the top of the key and watched it hit the back iron, glance off the backboard and drop out of bounds.
The shot had looked true when it left his hands. It would have tied the game with 13.3 seconds left and sent John Paul Jones Arena into a frenzy.
Instead, just another frustrating moment. Another miss from deep from a program that’s long been known for its long-range shooting excellence.
Headed into their 53-51 loss to N.C. State on Monday, the Cavaliers were tied with Coppin State for 343rd nationally in 3-point accuracy. Their 26.8% shooting percentage from deep will actually drop a little more after this one, as the Cavaliers went 3 for 12.
The Cavaliers got one more look at a 3-pointer after Huff’s — one that would have won the game instead of tied it —but Casey Morsell’s contested attempt at the buzzer hit the front of the rim.
“It’s hard,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said of trying to win without making 3s. “We got pretty good looks. We didn’t take quite as many today. We try to balance it up, try to get some baskets off turnovers, go in the lane and at least touch the paint. But you’ve still got to shoot them when they’re there.”
You’ve got to. College basketball demands it. UVa’s low-possession style of play demands it even more. It fires up the crowd. It makes the opposition worry. It makes a stop on the other end seem even bigger.
The most exciting, impactful moments of Monday’s game were 3-point shots. Morsell drained one with 6:07 remaining late in a 15-0 Virginia run, giving the Cavaliers their first lead since midway through the first half.
But the Wolfpack answered with two of their own — one by Jericole Hellems, the other by Markell Johnson — that gave N.C. State the lead for good.
Of course, everyone could assume UVa would have a drop-off in 3-point accuracy from last year’s 39.5% that ranked seventh nationally. Young players aren’t going to just step in and light it up the way Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and DeAndre Hunter did.
But the drop-off hasn’t been a small one, and the sample size keeps growing. The Cavaliers are last in the ACC in this category. Only once all season — against Navy on Dec. 19 — have they shot 40% or better from 3 in a game.
Their best 3-point shooter coming into Monday was point guard Kihei Clark at 36.7%. They had four players with a better average than that last season, including Huff at 45.2%.
Three UVa players with at least 40 3-point attempts each are shooting 20% or worse.
“That’s where our margin of error shrinks,” Bennett said. “When you look at our shooting percentages, you’ve got to be so right in all those other areas. But it’s not for lack of working on the shots or trying to get good shots. It makes it hard.”
Morsell’s late make was an encouraging one, as the freshman entered the game 9 for 62 (14.5%) from 3.
The best news for the Cavaliers is that their defense always gives them a chance. They held N.C. State without a point for more than 10 consecutive minutes during one stretch in the second half.
Morsell’s 3-pointer was the only one they hit during that run, however. One or two more, and perhaps the Cavaliers would have built a comfortable lead.
“Say what you want, but every game we’ve lost in the ACC we could have won,” Bennett said. “We’ve had chances. You’re close … . I’m trying to be hopeful that we’ll stick a few of those, but we’ll keep plugging.”