By Jeff White
TAMPA, Fla. — His team scored only 49 points Monday night — UVa’s lowest output in 3 ½ years — but not because new coach Tony Bennett insisted his players use most of the shot clock on each possession.
The Cavaliers took plenty of shots at the Sun Dome — seven more more than South Florida, in fact. They simply failed to hit many of them.
“It’s hard to be competitive if you’re not making some shots,” Bennett said after his team’s 66-49 loss to USF.
“Most of them were pretty good looks, so you just have to take them when they present themselves.”
In the Wahoos’ second game under Bennett — the first was a win over Longwood — they made only 17 of 52 attempts from the floor (32.7 percent). From 3-point range they were worse — 16.7 percent.
The points were the fewest for Virginia since it scored 49 in a March 14, 2006, loss at Stanford in the NIT.
The crowd didn’t rattle the ‘Hoos (1-1). The official attendance in a building that seats 10,411 was 4,193, and Virginia isn’t likely to play a road game in a less-hostile atmosphere this season.
“Everybody got good looks,” said junior guard Jeff Jones, who was 1 for 7 from beyond the arc. “It was just one of those nights. Nothing was falling for anybody.”
To make the night worse for the Cavaliers, their defense for the final 25 minutes was as suspect as their markmanship. The Bulls (2-0) shot a torrid 53.3 percent from the floor in avenging the loss they suffered at John Paul Jones Arena last year.
USF scored the final four points of the first half to take a 31-27 lead at the break. The Bulls scored the first nine points of the second half, and UVa trailed by at least 10 the rest of the way.
“Boy, when it unraveled, it unraveled quick,” Bennett said.
Assane Sene might have made a difference against USF, whose starters include 6-11 Jarrid Famous and 6-10 Augustus Gilchrist, a former Virginia Tech recruit and Maryland player. But the 7-0 sophomore was back in Charlottesville serving a suspension that will keep him out of the Cavaliers’ lineup for another game.
With only two scholarship post players available Monday, the ‘Hoos desperately needed a big night from the more productive of those two, 6-8 junior Mike Scott.
He started auspiciously, throwing down an alley-oop pass from sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski for the game’s first points, but Scott couldn’t sustain it.
Foul trouble limited him to 16 minutes. He picked up his fifth personal with 8:35 to play, departing with nine points and five rebounds.
“Mike’s probably our best interior scorer, and when he was out of the game, we were pretty much a perimeter-oriented team,” said Bennett, who Monday night coached without a necktie, as he had at Washington State.
“And when the shots weren’t falling, that makes it hard, and they obviously capitalized on that. That affected us, and I wish we could have had him for longer, because we certainly need that. We’re thin on the frontline, and that didn’t help us at all.”
Jerome Meyinsse’s effort couldn’t be faulted. The 6-9 senior played a career-high 27 minutes and battled throughout, collecting four points and four rebounds. But with Scott on the bench for much of the game, the Wahoos couldn’t match the Bulls’ size inside. Famous and Gilchrist combined for 30 points and 16 rebounds.
“It was tough,” Jones said. “They had a lot of length.”
USF guard Dominique Jones scored a game-high 22 points and added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. He’s “as good as advertised, you can see that,” Bennett said.
Virginia never got hot from the floor, but its defense was solid enough for much of the first half. The Bulls didn’t take their first lead until the 5:24 mark, when Jones hit a 3-pointer that made it 21-20. His trey capped a 6-0 run that started when Scott went to the bench with his second foul.
“I thought early, especially most of the first half, we got real good looks and couldn’t capitalize on them when we got to the lane, missed some rhythm open shots, even some stuff at the rim,” Bennett said. “And I think that played heavy on our mind.
“I thought our defense held us in there. But then as the game wore on, I thought their defense toughened up, and we kind of did a role reversal. I think ours softened a little bit.”
The loss was the 11th straight for UVa in this state. The only Cavalier to score in double figures was sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg, and he missed 9 of 14 field-goal attempts.
Calvin Baker, in his 2009-10 debut, provided a spark for UVa. The senior guard, who’s coming off two arthroscopic knee surgeries, went 2 for 4 from the floor and scored five points in 15 minutes.
“You can see that he’s a competitor,” Bennett said.
For part of the game, Bennett said, the Cavaliers competed too.
“The first 15 minutes defensively, they battled, they really did,” he said. “They made it hard, and it kept us in there. And so there was a step in the right direction that way. Better than that it was even against Longwood.
“But we talk a lot about trying to do the things that eliminate losing. When you’re struggling, that can’t affect you on the defensive end, and that’s a hard sell on those guys. You can’t have your identity totally [based on whether] your shot’s going in.”
Baker said: “Our intention was to come out after halftime and make sure we threw the first punch, but they obviously did, and that’s what broke the lead open, and it was hard for us to recover from that.”
The ‘Hoos face a quick turnaround. They host Rider on Thursday night at JPJ in a game that’s part of the Cancun Challenge.
“We know that there are going to be ups and downs, and we understand that,” Baker said. “But we also know it’s a long season, so we can’t keep our heads down. We’re going to go back to practice and go back to work and get ready for the next game.”