By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In Chestnut Hill, Mass., the hottest team in ACC’s men’s basketball, 15th-ranked Florida State, suffered a bewildering loss to Boston College. In Chapel Hill, N.C., 10th-ranked Duke rallied for a stunning victory over No. 5 North Carolina.
No such drama unfolded Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena, where 19th-ranked Virginia led for the final 37 minutes — twice by 33 points — in a 68-44 rout of Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons “got embarrassed,” junior guard C.J. Harris, the ACC’s second-leading scorer, said after UVa held him to 10 points, 7.5 below his average.
The crowd at JPJ, where the Cavaliers (6-3, 19-4) won’t play again until Feb. 18, included Keith Wall, who in the ’80s coached Tony Bennett at Preble High School in Green Bay, Wis. Wall saw Bennett’s team put on a clinic against the Deacons, who had won the previous six games in this series.
“Tonight was one of those games when the offense and the defense came together,” said Bennett, UVa’s third-year coach.
The Cavaliers led 40-19 at the break. After UVa opened the second half with a 14-2 run, there was no question which team would win this game. What wasn’t clear was if Mike Scott would miss a field-goal attempt.
He didn’t. When Scott headed to the bench for good with 12:41 left and Virginia leading 56-23, the 6-8, 237-pound fifth-year senior was 9 for 9 from the floor. That tied the school record shared by Jeff Jones and Kenny Turner for most field goals without a miss in a game. (Jones went 9 for 9 against Alabama-Birmingham on March 18, 1982, and Turner was 9 for 9 against Samford on Nov. 28, 1989.)
“I didn’t know he was 9 for 9,” UVa forward Akil Mitchell said, but “now that I think about it, I can’t remember him missing a shot, so that’s really impressive.”
During the game, Scott said, “I didn’t know how many I made. I knew I was on a little bit, and I was going, so I just tried to keep being aggressive.”
The Deacons (2-8, 11-13) opened the game with 7-foot Ty Walker on Scott, who has emerged as a leading candidate for the ACC’s player-of-the-year award.
“We thought our length would at least bother him, and it didn’t,” Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
On the Cavaliers’ third possession, Scott faced up against Walker and calmly buried a fadeaway jumper from the right baseline. Less than a minute late, Scott challenged Walker in the same fashion from the left baseline, with the same result.
“I’ll take that shot against anyone,” Scott said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. I worked on that shot all summer.”
Scott, one of five UVa players in double figures, finished with a game-high 19 points and also contributed 5 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist. His only miss came at the foul line, where he went 1 for 2.
“I should have made that free throw,” Scott said with a smile.
The Wahoos didn’t need that point, not on a night when they shot 70.8 percent from the floor in the first half and 53.7 percent for the game. Sophomore swingman Joe Harris hit his first three shots — all from beyond the arc, all in the first six minutes — and finished with 11 points.
Mitchell, a 6-8 sophomore, matched his ACC career high with 10 points, led the ‘Hoos with 6 rebounds, and handed out a career-best 4 assists. Starting point guard Jontel Evans and reserve guard Malcolm Brogdon added 10 points apiece for Virginia, which plays Saturday afternoon at UNC.
Fifth-year senior Sammy Zeglinski was 0 for 2 from 3-point range, despite the crowd’s best efforts to will his shots into the basket. But the 6-1 guard from Philadelphia played a solid all-around game, totaling 4 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and no turnovers in his 22 minutes.
Virginia scored 8 fast-break points Wednesday night. Two came on a dunk by Mitchell off a slick no-look pass from Zeglinski. Brogdon, a 6-5 freshman who looks increasingly comfortable at point guard, also sparkled in transition.
“I love running the break,” Brogdon said. “I like getting the crowd into it, and I think transition is the way to do it for the most part.”
The Cavaliers executed well on defense, too. The Deacons shot only 34.1 percent from the floor, and many of their possessions ended with contested attempts.
“I thought we made it difficult for them to get in the paint and did a good job of closing out shooters,” Zeglinski said. “It definitely was tough on them, and I think it kind of tired them out to go through 35 seconds of shot clock and then have to go down and play defense.”
Rare is the head coach who’s entirely happy after a game, and Bennett saw some things he didn’t like Wednesday night. Overall, though, he was pleased with the way his players meshed on offense.
“And the same thing defensively,” Bennett said. “That’s what you hope for. That’s what you practice hard and you prepare for, and then when it comes together, it’s good to see … But just because we did it once doesn’t mean it’s going to show up [every time], and we’re going to need to be at a very high level come Saturday.”
North Carolina (7-2, 20-4) is tied for first in the ACC with FSU and Duke. UVa is tied for fourth with NC State.
The Tar Heels will have a significant size advantage on the ‘Hoos, but Bennett’s team should be well-rested when tipoff arrives Saturday. Of Virginia’s starters, only Mitchell played more than 29 minutes against Wake. The Cavaliers’ scholarship freshmen — Brodgon, 6-8 Darion Atkins and 6-6 Paul Jesperson — logged 25, 14 and 13 minutes, respectively, against Wake.
“Whenever we can rest some of our key guys that have been playing a lot of minutes, that’s a good thing,” Bennett said. “It was nice to be able to distribute the minutes evenly and hopefully rest up. We know, obviously, we’re getting ready to go play one of the best teams in America, and hopefully we’ll be ready for that.”