By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALMERE, The Netherlands — Twenty hours and 30 minutes later, the same teams met in the same gym in this same Amsterdam suburb, with many of the same fans in the stands.
The result was vastly different.
The University of Virginia men’s basketball team is on a five-game tour of three European countries. In its opener Wednesday night, UVa humbled the Netherlands B team 89-62 in Almere. In the rematch Thursday afternoon, the Dutch team led for the final 38:24, usually by a comfortable margin.
“I just thought we got stretched and had too many breakdowns,” said Tony Bennett, UVa’s fourth-year coach. “Some of that’s inexperience, but some of that’s just a lack of being tough-minded enough in a setting where we thought it was going to come a little easier because of yesterday’s game.”
The final score of the rematch was 82-73, but the game wasn’t that close. The Dutch team, after falling behind 9-0, led by 14 at the half, by 20 after three quarters and by 23 with 6:10 to play.
“We were kind of feeling good about ourselves after blowing them out yesterday,” Virginia swingman Joe Harris said after scoring a game-high 23 points. “Then today, they’re a little bit older, experienced group, and they have a lot of pride. They’re not going to just let us come in here and whup them again like we did yesterday. We just kind of came out too relaxed and played a little bit too comfortable.”
The Dutch players, Bennett said, punished his team physically. It didn’t hurt, either, that the Netherlands B team hit 11 treys and went 16 for 17 from the line.
“They were so ready, and they really took it to us and shot at an incredible clip,” Bennett said. “But we couldn’t match their intensity or just their ability to do what they wanted. They imposed their will on us; we didn’t do much.”
The home and visiting locker rooms are next to each other at Topsportscentrum, and before the game, while his team was on the court warming up, Bennett could hear the Dutch players “pounding the benches,” he said, “and you could tell they wanted to represent.”
He expected as much. After Wednesday night’s game, Bennett said, the coach of the Netherlands B team had approached him.
“He said, `We will be much better. I promise you we’ll have a better game,’ ” Bennett recalled. “And I explained to our guys this morning, there’s something about when you get older, when you get your lunch money taken or when someone punches you in the face, you’ll respond, and you’re going to see grown men come after you a little bit. And they came after us, and we weren’t able to handle that.”
The story of the first game was the play of UVa freshmen Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte and Justin Anderson, who combined for 46 points. They were less effective Thursday. Tobey scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high 8 rebounds, but he struggled defensively. Nolte scored only 3 points. Anderson had 6 points, but also 7 of his team’s 22 turnovers.
“It came real easy yesterday,” Bennett said. “Shots were falling like [they were for the Dutch] today.”
Now, he said, it’s about his first-year players “learning and figuring out how to play when you’re struggling a little bit, how to be effective and competitive when some things aren’t going well. That was again a new experience for a lot of these guys. Mike played so well yesterday, and they really went at him today, and their physicality showed.”
Bennett is known for his restraint on the bench, but his team’s passiveness clearly bothered him Thursday.
“Do they have your attention now?” Bennett yelled during a second-quarter timeout. “Do you know it’s not going to be easy?”
With 5:36 left, during another timeout, Bennett, at the top of his voice, challenged his players again, telling them, `You got five minutes to play.’ ”
His message finally sunk in, and the Wahoos ended the game on a 21-7 run. But it was too little, too late.
“The way we played, it was lukewarm,” Harris said. “Like Coach talks about, playing with passion is one of our pillars, something we take a lot of pride in, and he calls the effort lukewarm when it’s not exactly there. And that’s what it was, for the most part of the game, except for that last [five] minutes when Coach challenged us to really get after it. He kind of laid into us, and we gave a better effort there at the end.”
In the last five minutes, Bennett said, “I think we pushed beyond what we thought was our comfort level. They were trying hard all game, but there’s another level when you get into competition, especially when you’re down. You can’t always assume you’re gonna be in spots where the shots are falling or the other team’s off. This team shot lights out, they made their free throws, they were physical, and we didn’t respond well to it.
Point guard Jontel Evans, the only senior among UVa’s scholarship players, led the late rally, and he finished with 14 points, 6 assists, 3 steals and only 1 turnover. Junior Akil Mitchell, who started at power forward, added 12 points and 7 rebounds for the `Hoos, who travel Friday to Belgium. They’ll face Gembo on Saturday night in Antwerp.
“I’m thankful for what we’ll learn through the struggles we had,” Bennett said.
Sophomore swingman Paul Jesperson, who came off the bench to score 5 points Wednesday night, sat out the rematch with a back injury. His status for Saturday night’s game is unclear.
NETHERLANDS B 82, VIRGINIA 73
Virginia 17 18 11 27 — 73
Netherlands B 18 31 17 16 — 82
UVa — Harris, 23, Evans 14, Tobey 12, Mitchell 12, Nolte 3, Anderson 6, Atkins 2, Jones 1, Barnette 0.
Netherlands B — Mladenovic 15, Zondervan 14, Osaikhwuwuomwam 9, Ridderhof 9, Kloos 4, Robinson 15, van Vught 8, Basseling 5, Padberg 3, Lietmeijer 0.