CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Kihei Clark was the littlest player on the court, but he made the biggest play.
The 5-foot-9 guard made the go-ahead layup with 59 seconds left, and Virginia ended No. 5 Florida State’s 10-game winning streak, 61-56, on Tuesday night.
Clark drove down the left side of the lane, reached across and banked his shot in on the right side.
“When I got the big switched on me, I used my quickness to my advantage. That was the game plan,” Clark said.
Clark said initially, he drove looking for defenders to leave shooters alone for him to pass to. When none did, he seized the opportunity.
“I went in and tried to make a play,” he said.
On the play, size didn’t matter, Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton said.
“Sometimes size is misleading,” he said. “Sometimes when you’re small and quick and fast, that has advantages too. I mean, he’s a very clever guy with the ball. … He might be small in stature but he has the biggest heart in the ACC and guys like that, they have that special `it’ factor that sometimes you can’t identify, but he has it. He was extremely confident and thought that his teammate fed off of him, and he made the plays and kept us at bay.”
The victory was Virginia’s first as an unranked team against a team in the Top 5 since the Cavaliers beat Duke 73-68 on Feb. 28, 2013. It also was the second straight for the reigning national champions, who’d lost four of five previously, raising questions about whether they would make the NCAA Tournament.
Mamadi Diakite had 19 points and nine rebounds for Virginia (14-6, 6-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), and Braxton Key added 13 points and nine rebounds.
After Clark’s basket, Diakite and Key each made a pair of free throws to seal it. Diakite dismissed the idea that the shots were pressure-packed.
“We’ve been there,” Diakite said, recalling three close games to complete their national championship run. “That’s the reason we were all clutch today.”
After Clark gave Virginia a 57-56 lead, Devin Vassell missed a jumper for the Seminoles and Diakite hit two free throws with 13.9 seconds left. Key’s came after Wyatt Wilkes and Trent Forrest missed 3-point tries for the Seminoles.
“I expected them to foul us, but because they are such a good defensive team, they played it out,” Hamilton said of the ending.
The Seminoles forced 17 turnovers while committing just seven, but were outscored 10-9 off those miscues by the Cavaliers. Virginia also won the rebounding battle 36-23.
Vassell led Florida State (17-3, 7-2) with 17 points. The loss was the Seminoles’ first since Dec. 3 at Indiana.
Florida St.: Besides the overall winning streak, the Seminoles arrived at Virginia with an even more impressive one: they’d won nine consecutive overtime games overall, and 10 straight against ACC foes. All of the overtime contests in the streak have come against Power Five opponents.
Virginia: Coming off a seven 3-pointer performance in a victory at Wake Forest, Tomas Woldetensae caused a stir in the crowd with two first-half 3-pointers. Moments after his second 3, however, he was whistled for his second personal foul and went to the bench with nearly nine minutes left in the half. He attempted just one 3 after halftime and finished 2 for 4. He finished the game with eight points.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett seemed especially animated at times with the officials and was asked if it’s because his team is playing so many close games. The Cavaliers’ four conference losses have come by a total of just 30 points.
“We didn’t have many close games last year so it was a bit easier,” he said.
The Seminoles remain on the road, and in Virginia, playing at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
The Cavaliers don’t play again until Clemson visits next Wednesday night.