CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP)—Todd Billet turned 59 minutes and 57 1/2 seconds of emptiness into 2 1/2 seconds of ecstasy with one shot Saturday.
He hopes the play will do the same for Virginia’s sinking season.
“When you’re losing, there’s a lot of grumblings and stuff,” Billet said after his 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds left gave the Cavaliers an 82-80 victory over No. 15 Georgia Tech, stopping a five-game losing streak.
“Winning cures a lot of things and we were in bad need of a win,” he said. “Hopefully this will give the team a shot in the arm, the fans a shot in the arm and kind of rejuvenate everyone that’s been frustrated.”
Billet said the shot—his only field goal of the game—was the biggest of his career, and embattled coach Pete Gillen said he was “happy for all our players, but I’m really happy for Todd, as a senior, to have a moment like that.”
Billet’s shot made him the hero, but the stars for Virginia(13-9, 3-8 Atlantic Coast Conference)were many:
— Point guard T.J. Bannister played 31 minutes and had 15 points and seven assists, several of them dazzling, in the spot Billet often fills.
— Elton Brown had 21 points and seven rebounds.
— Devin Smith, who again overcame a back injury that has kept him out of practice for a month, scored all 16 of his points in the second half, including a 3-pointer with 1:34 left to pull Virginia within 78-76.
— Guard J.R. Reynolds, who scored all 11 of his points in the first half, keeping the Cavaliers in it until the rest of the team got going.
Gillen also credited a zone defense that kept the Yellow Jackets from repeating their dominance inside as a key adjustment, especially after Georgia Tech outscored Virginia inside 26-4 on Jan. 15.
“We just couldn’t stop their penetration” the first time, he said. “We wanted to make them shoot over us and try to beat us from outside.”
The Yellow Jackets shot 48 percent, including 62 percent in the second half, but were outscored in the paint 38-26 and outrebounded 32-30.
“Our guys wanted it,” Gillen said. “We were very hungry today.”
Reynolds said he felt the improved play was boosted by a solid effort in a 93-75 loss at No. 1 Duke on Wednesday.
“The Duke game, that brought everybody up because they found out the way that we can play,” Reynolds said. “We showed it again tonight.”
The Yellow Jackets (18-6, 5-5) still had one last chance to win, but Will Bynum’s off-balance 3-pointer was well off as time ran out.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt credited Virginia for making the extra pass on Billet’s winner, and for rallying against dire circumstances.
“The ball was loose in the corner and one of our guys gravitated toward the play,” Hewitt said, speaking of Brown’s save in the corner when the ball nearly went out of bounds.
“We teach our guys in situations like that to look for the first obvious pass. Virginia was able to find a second open player, but we were able to recover. It looked like it was a pretty well-contested shot.”
Billet, who missed his first three shots, hit the game-winner with Isma’il Muhammad rushing toward him.
B.J. Elder had 14 of his 22 points in the second half for Georgia Tech, including four 3-pointers, while Marvin Lewis scored 13 points and Bynum had 12, including a basket with 1:48 left that gave the Yellow Jackets a 78-73 lead.
But Smith hit a 3-pointer from the right side with 1:34 left, Bannister had a three-point play with 1:06 left.