Mathis' Career Night Carries Cavs Past VMI, 93-59
Jan 24, 2002
By HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.- With starting center Travis Watson on the bench in street clothes nursing a hip pointer, Virginia’s J.C. Mathis and Jason Clark knew Thursday night was their chance to show what they can do.
Both did, with Mathis setting career-highs of 20 points and 15 rebounds and Clark blocking eight shots as No. 7 Virginia beat Virginia Military Institute 93-59, the Cavaliers’ 22nd straight win in the series.
“We knew we had to step up our game and we wanted to show the crowd and the coaches and everyone else they we can really play,” Clark, a freshman, said after also scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Mathis, a starter whether Watson is available or not, normally is the big man assigned to the opponent’s best low post player, and coach Pete Gillen sometimes tells him to concentrate on defense and rebounding.
Against the smaller Keydets, he had a chance to do all three, going 10-of-18 from the field, grabbing eight offensive rebounds and standing out.
“J.C. is just a character guy,” Gillen said. “He does countless little things. Today we needed him to do a little more, and he did it.”
For Mathis, it was just another day doing his job for Virginia.
“I knew since Travis was out … I had to make a conscious effort” to rebound, he said. “Plus we thought we were a little bigger up front, so we tried to exploit that.”
The Cavaliers (14-2) won for the 99th time in the series they have dominated most in their history, despite also playing without guard Adam Hall, who sat out his fourth consecutive game with a foot injury.
Still, VMI coach Bart Bellairs thought he had seen enough.
“Anyone who thinks the ACC is a finesse league needs to get under the boards with some of those big guys,” Bellairs said, adding that the absence of Watson only served to make his replacements hungry to do well.
“Sometimes, when a player like that is gone, other people are foaming at the mouth to step up to the plate. You saw that tonight,” he said.
The Keydets (6-12) lost for the eighth time in nine games despite 25 points from freshman Jason Conley, Division I’s scoring leader. VMI has beaten Virginia just 15 times in 114 meetings, and not since 1964.
Virginia trailed 20-18 after Conley’s 10th point with 8:25 left in the first half, then went on a half-ending 31-9 run to lead 49-29.
Roger Mason Jr. had 10 points in the run and Mathis had eight.
Mason said playing the instate rival during an odd break in the ACC schedule came at a good time, especially with No. 1 Duke ahead on Sunday.
“It’s definitely good to see. When key guys are out, other guys have to step up. It’s only going to help our team. When Travis is back, J.C. has got confidence now to know that he can put up 20 and 15,” he said.
The Cavaliers didn’t let up after the break, starting the second half with a 20-7 run and allowing Gillen to clear what was left of his bench.
Conley also grabbed 11 rebounds for the Keydets, but got little help. Ben Rand and Preston Beverly each scored eight points for VMI.