By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Yes, he heard the crowd cheering and chanting his name. How could Sammy Zeglinski not have? The fans’ roar, a mixture of joy and relief, shook John Paul Jones Arena late Thursday night.
Just when it was starting to seem as if Zeglinski might never make another 3-pointer at JPJ, the fifth-year senior from Philadelphia hit one with 3:20 left to give the 19th-ranked UVa men’s basketball a double-digit lead over ACC foe Boston College.
“Nice to see it go in,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
Less than a minute later, Zeglinski, a 6-1 guard, buried another trey, this one from NBA range, and the home fans — led by his fellow students — showed their appreciation again.
“Sammy … Sammy … Sammy,” they chanted.
“They were great tonight,” Zeglinski said of the supporters who saw UVa rebound from a dispiriting loss to Virginia Tech by beating Boston College 66-49.
Zeglinski, 0 for 6 from 3-point range against the Hokies, missed his first two attempts from beyond the arc Thursday night. The second was an airball from the left corner at the 7:47 mark of the second half.
“I thought, ‘Oh, man, he missed pretty bad on that,’ ” Bennett said. “But he came back, and I just told him, ‘Keep shooting as long as [they are] good shots, and eventually you’re going to make some.’ ”
The Cavaliers outscored BC 22-5 over the final 10:10, so it’s probably a stretch to call Zeglinski’s first 3-pointer a game-changer. Still, for a team that at times relies too heavily on All-ACC candidate Mike Scott for points, contributions from Zeglinski are crucial, especially with a Saturday night game at NC State (4-2, 15-6) looming for Virginia (3-2, 16-3).
“That was a significant bucket,” Bennett said.
BC (2-4, 7-13) starts four freshmen, and the Wahoos were expected to win this one easily. With 10:23 left, however, the teams were tied at 44-44 after an 8-0 run by the Eagles.
The ‘Hoos stayed poised. Junior point guard Jontel Evans dribbled through BC’s defense for a layup that made it 46-44 with 10:10 to play, and then freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon followed suit on UVa’s next possession. Sophomore forward Akil Mitchell, who came in shooting 39.1 percent from the line, made two throws at the 7:07 mark, and suddenly it was a six-point game.
BC, which made 7 of its first 14 shots from 3-point range, finished 7 for 20 from beyond the arc.
“Unfortunately, during a lot of games this year, we’ve run out of gas,” Boston College coach Steve Donahue said.
UVa had something to do with that Thursday night. In the final 10 minutes, Mitchell said, “I think we locked down defensively like we plan on doing every game. When we stepped up it defensively, the offense got flowing a little more.”
Scott (18 points), as usual, led the Cavaliers in scoring, but the 6-8, 237-pound fifth-year senior got plenty of support Thursday night. Mitchell scored 10 points, his career high in an ACC game, and Evans had 10, too. Zeglinski and sophomore swingman Joe Harris added 8 points apiece, and Brogdon and classmate Darion Atkins contributed 6 apiece.
A stomach bug had limited Zeglinski’s preparation for the Virginia Tech game. He was fine by Thursday night, but one of his roommates was sick. Harris had to sit out practice Tuesday. He returned on a limited basis Wednesday but had a fever when he woke up Thursday.
Harris gutted it out for 26 minutes against BC, hitting 2 treys and grabbing 5 rebounds.
“He’s a warrior,” Zeglinski said.
Four nights after shooting 15 for 46 from the floor and 14 for 22 from the line against the Hokies, UVa regained its touch. The Cavaliers made 27 of 53 field-goal attempts and all 8 of their free throws against BC.
“We took the shots that were there, and they went in tonight more frequently,” Bennett said. “And you gotta be able to do that.”
Zeglinski said: “If you get a good look at the rim, you gotta shoot it with confidence, and I thought we did that tonight for the most part.”
Evans, who missed 8 of his 12 field-goal attempts against Virginia Tech, was 5 for 9 from the floor Thursday night and also had 6 assists and 3 steals. Opponents continue to play off Evans, often having his defender double-team Scott when the ball goes in the post. Evans has not hesitated to shoot in recent games, and he has his coach’s blessing to be aggressive with the ball.
“He has to,” Bennett said. “In my opinion, if people are going to back off of him that much, he has to reel in the slack and get to the paint. He’s worked hard in the offseason on his touch, his floaters, his drives. It hasn’t showed up on his one-dribble pullup, but he has to take shots, with good decisions behind it.”
Opponents are daring Evans to shoot from the outside, but he said he’s not insulted by that strategy.
“I take it as a compliment,” he said. “I’m a great penetrator, so they try to keep me out of the paint. If I get to the paint, then my team is dangerous, so I don’t take it as disrespect.”
He concentrates, Evans said, on “reading the defense, just taking what the defense gives me, not trying to force anything. And tonight they gave me a lot of opportunities to get to my sweet spots, down low on the box where I can just kiss it off the glass.”
In 2009-10, their first season under Bennett, the Cavaliers finished 15-16. They improved to 16-15 last season, but it took them 30 games to get that 16th victory. UVa lost its starting center, senior Assane Sene, to an ankle injury last week, and he’s not expected back before March. But the ‘Hoos showed Thursday night that Sene’s absence does not have to cripple them.
“I think they’re a very good basketball team,” Donahue said. “They guard the heck out of you. They share it. And Mike Scott is a handful. I think Tony does as good a job as anybody in the country coaching his guys up to play to their strengths. I think that’s what you saw tonight.”
Bennett said: “Coming off of the disappointment of the Virginia Tech game, I really challenged our guys to step up. I said, ‘You gotta step up. This is where Joe’s gotta look inside and muster something that he probably hasn’t in a long time. And the guys that have been struggling, shrug it off and step up your game and let’s come away with one.’ ”
Zeglinski led the list of those players. In Virginia’s 61-58 loss at Duke on Jan. 12, he had gone 0 for 8 from the floor in 37 scoreless minutes. He made 2 treys in UVa’s next game, a rout of Georgia Tech, but then struggled against Virginia Tech.
“It was pretty tough on me,” Zeglinski said. “I had some sleepless nights, but I have great coaches that always show confidence in me, and great teammates, and that’s what helped me get through it, to be honest.
“I’ve made plenty of shots in my career. I think at this point it was just mental, and getting one to go in [against BC] just gets the momentum going. I think going on from here I should be all right.”
UP NEXT: In a game that ESPN2 will carry, UVa meets NC State at 8 p.m. Saturday in Raleigh. The Wolfpack played Thursday night, too, losing 74-55 to No. 7 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. UVa is off to its best start since 1982-83. That Virginia team collected its 16th win on Jan. 26, 1983 — a 59-44 victory over George Washington.