In their second quality performance since the suspension of their leading scorer, the Cavaliers defeated the Eagles 68-62 in the first round of the ACC tournament. They snapped a nine-game losing streak, avenged a defeat from eight days earlier and had five players score in double figures for the first time in 24 games.
All of which prompts a question that once seemed absurd: Is Virginia better without Sylven Landesberg?
We're talking about the program's most talented player, after all. Last season's ACC Rookie of the Year; a second-team all-conference selection this year; a Queens kid with a New York City game.
Without the injured Landesberg (thigh bruise) against Duke last month, the Cavaliers were helpless. They lost by 18.
But when the school suspended Landesberg for academic shortcomings before the regular-season finale against Maryland, Virginia adjusted. The Terps needed a bogus blocking foul and subsequent technical foul against Cavs coach Tony Bennett to escape by six.
Then Thursday, against a team it lost to by 13 on March 3, Virginia led for the final 24 minutes and by as many as 11 points.
Ball movement was faster, crisper and smarter. Shots were easier and more equitably distributed.
Perhaps most important, without Landesberg and disgruntled senior Calvin Baker, who left the team after the Maryland game, the Cavaliers (15-15) were a group more concerned about team than NBA prospects and playing time.
"Coach Bennett always preaches that our house cannot be divided," freshman point guard Jontel Evans said. "We're a family. We just came together. Today the house wasn't divided. It was unified."
With four assists, no turnovers and stout defense, Evans was among six Cavaliers who contributed mightily. Sammy Zeglinski, Jeff Jones, Jerome Meyinsse, Mike Scott and Mustapha Farrakhan combined for all of Virginia's points — Zeglinski's 21 are a career-best in an ACC game.
Like Evans, Farrakhan had four assists without a giveaway. The terminally inconsistent Scott matched his season-best with 13 rebounds.
Jones' 3-point heave with the shot clock expiring gave the Cavaliers a 27-25 lead with 4:08 remaining in the first half, an edge they never relinquished.
"In the second half we got a little shaky," Bennett said. "They showed some resolve. They didn't falter."
None showed more than Meyinsse, a 6-foot-9 senior power forward in the midst of the most remarkable late-career surge in ACC history. He scored eight of his 12 points after halftime, his fifth consecutive game in double figures.
In those five games, Meyinsse has scored 75 points. He scored 96 in his first THREE YEARS at Virginia.
"What he's doing on the court is awesome," Jones said.
As if by magic, Meyinsse is suddenly a force in the low post, hitting feathery turn-arounds and dunking with authority. All this from a young man who Thursday was named the ACC's basketball scholar-athlete of the year.
"It was a surprise to me," said Meyinsse, an economics major. "It was very nice, and my parents were here to see it, so that was great. They've helped me along this road and taught me how to carry myself."
And who taught him those moves in the paint?
"On the offensive end, I'm just trying to be more aggressive," Meyinsse said. "There were a couple of games where Sylven wasn't there, so I just tried to be more aggressive, and it just continued. My confidence has grown over the course of the season."
Virginia's season and Meyinsse's career figure to end this afternoon in a tournament quarterfinal against top-seeded Duke. But delaying that conclusion for a day and avoiding a season-closing 10-game losing streak were critical for Bennett and the Cavaliers as they move on from the coach's first season.
"He's the most positive guy I've seen in my life," Jones said of Bennett.
"Leading up to the game we had three really spirited practices," Bennett said. "There's been a good attitude. You have to do that when your tank isn't full."
The tank won't be full today, either. But full isn't always best.
"We're definitely loose," Jones said.
"We've got that (losing streak) weight off our shoulders. That was so brutal. We're just thinking about Duke. We're the only ones who believe."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.