RALEIGH, N.C. — By the time Virginia and Coastal Carolina finally took the court late Friday night, the number was 119. Since the NCAA tournament bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 1 seeds were 119-0 against No. 16s.
Virginia-Coastal was this season's final 1-16 clash, Florida, Arizona and Wichita State already having dispatched Albany, Weber State and Cal Poly, respectively. The Cavaliers hoped to avoid an epic first.
But that's precisely what began to unfold.
Until Virginia rediscovered its MIA defensive mojo. Until Evan Nolte, who had scored nine points in the Cavaliers' last 10 games, contributed eight off the bench in the second half. Until Anthony Gill, another reserve on this deep roster, scored 10 of his team-high 17 in the second half.
Virginia (29-6) escaped PNC Arena with a 70-59 victory that heaven knows was far more harrowing than the margin indicates.
"For sure there’s a sense of relief, Cavaliers guard Malcolm Brogdon said. "We picked it up in the second half, and that’s what matters. We’ll roll with the win and come out better the next game."
The Chanticleers (21-13) made five of their first eight 3-point attempts, most sans the defensive pressure that's defined U.Va.'s season. Compounding the Cavaliers' problems: They went about 10 minutes with only one field goal.
So there Coastal was with a 10-point lead late in the first half. There Virginia associate head coach Ritchie McKay was on the bench, shaking his head in disbelief as Akil Mitchell, a member of the ACC's all-defensive team, gave up the baseline to Badou Diagne.
And finally, emblematic of the first half, there was Virginia allowing a last-second layup by El Hadji Ndiguene on an inbounds play.
Yet for all the Cavaliers' lethargy, coach Tony Bennett was serene at halftime with his team down 35-30.
"Sometimes he’ll come in really angry with us, yelling and getting at us," Brogdon said. "But today he was very calm."Not only was Big South champion Coastal, a 29-point loser at Clemson in its only ACC encounter of the regular season, shooting 52 percent, but Virginia had no offensive rebounds, none, on 12 missed shots in the half.
Brogdon and Joe Harris, the Cavaliers' best players and leading scorers, were 1-of-7 from the floor in the half, and the entire squad seemed skittish.
The start only fueled the chatter that began the moment CBS unveiled the tournament bracket Sunday: Virginia was a soft No. 1, its ACC regular season and tournament championships discounted by the conference's less-than-stellar year.
Why, you couldn't help but think of Chaminade, and its for-the-ages upset of the Cavaliers and Ralph Sampson in 1982. But that was a meaningless December game played in a near-vacuum in Hawaii while most of the continent slept.
This was the NCAA tournament and national television, and the moment appeared too big for the Cavaliers, none of whom had won an NCAA game. Nor had any of the Chanticleers, but the 19.5-point pups were playing with proverbial house money.
Diagne was boldly knocking down threes, and Ndieguene even barked at Justin Anderson after blocking his attempted layup.
But the Chanticleers shot only 32 percent after halftime as the Cavaliers, in Anderson's words, "tightened up our screws."
On the off chance any were required, the afternoon's opening game here reminded Virginia of the tournament's power to surprise. Mercer, champion of the Atlantic Sun Conference that last season produced Sweet 16 crasher Florida Gulf Coast, defeated Duke, the Cavaliers' ACC rival.
"I thought that would have gotten us ready," Nolte said.
What the Blue Devils' demise says about the ACC this season — little? Volumes? — remains to be seen. Conference newcomers Syracuse and Pittsburgh certainly were impressive in their NCAA openers Thursday.
But Friday afternoon's result, much like Lehigh's "upset" of Duke in 2012, in no way resembled a fluke. The Bears exploited the Blue Devils' soft defense and harassed them into frigid shooting.
Now any team, regardless of talent or pedigree, can endure a poor shooting night. The question is, can their defense rescue them?
Duke's was suspect all season. Virginia's was not, and defense was what figured to sustain the ACC regular-season and tournament winners and foil the Chanticleers.
The Cavaliers are the eighth squad in the 64-team NCAA tournament era (since 1985) to win the ACC regular season outright and tournament. Of the previous seven, four reached the Final Four — Duke in 1992 won the national championship — and three exited in the Sweet 16.
To reach the Sweet 16, Virginia must defeat Memphis here Sunday. The American Athletic Conference Tigers defeated George Washington 71-66 earlier Friday.
Memphis ranks 59th nationally in speed of play, according to Ken Pomeroy. Virginia is 346th.
Regardless of tempo, the Cavaliers will need to play far better than Friday to survive.
"I think today we came out flat," Nolte said. "We’ll learn from that, and I think Sunday we’ll come out with an edge."