By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the final seconds Saturday, the ball came to Justin Anderson near the basket, and the high-flying freshman could have thrown down his fourth dunk of the game at John Paul Jones Arena.
The 6-6 Anderson instead chose to dribble the ball back out and let the clock run down, a decision that pleased UVa’s coaching staff. Neither Anderson nor the Cavaliers had anything left to prove at that point.
In the most one-sided victory of Tony Bennett’s four seasons as the their coach, the Wahoos destroyed Seattle University 83-43 to even their record at 2-2.
“It was just nice to see some shots going in,” said Bennett, whose team came in shooting 38.5 percent from the floor and had yet to break the 60-point mark.
This is the third consecutive season these teams have met, and UVa was understandably wary of Seattle. “We all came ready to battle, ready for a rough, tough game,” junior forward Akil Mitchell said.
The Cavaliers’ coaches and upperclassmen haven’t forgotten that the Redhawks rolled into JPJ in December 2010 and won 59-53. A year later, Seattle nearly upset Virginia again. The `Hoos blew a big second-half lead before holding on for an 83-77 victory at KeyArena, once home to the NBA’s SuperSonics.
Those Seattle U teams, however, had Aaron Broussard, an undersized power forward the Cavaliers, for whatever reason, could not stop. Broussard now plays professionally in Iceland, where his teammates include former UVa guard Sammy Zeglinski.
“Ultimate bragging rights on the line tonight for me and my Seattle-grad teammate, Aaron Broussard #Letsgohoos,” Zeglinski tweeted Saturday.
Zeglinski’s alma mater did not let him down. The `Hoos spotted Seattle a 4-0 lead, then scored 35 of the game’s next 52 points. By halftime, it was 44-13, and the Redhawks had missed 20 of 25 shots from the floor.
“Our defense was amazing today for most of the first half,” Mitchell said.
The Cavaliers were without senior point guard Jontel Evans, a member of the ACC’s all-defensive team in 2011-12, again Saturday. Evans, who has started 70 games during his college career, had surgery on his right foot Oct. 2. He missed UVa’s first two games before returning to play three minutes in the third, a 59-53 loss to Delaware on Tuesday night at JPJ.
That stint left Evans’ foot sore, Bennett said Saturday, and UVa’s medical staff “wanted to take it slow.” Evans is expected to miss at least the next two games — Monday against Lamar and Tuesday versus North Texas.
“I’m not sure when he’ll be allowed to try again,” Bennett said. “I hope soon. And I would imagine fairly soon.”
Virginia’s No. 2 point guard, Malcolm Brogdon, remains sidelined with a foot injury. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Teven Jones was finally available Saturday, and in his college debut the 6-0 point guard contributed four points, three rebounds and an assist in 25 minutes off the bench.
The box score may not show it, Bennett said, “but I thought Teven gave us a great boost.”
A redshirt freshman from Kannapolis, N.C., Jones didn’t play last season after enrolling at UVa in January. With Evans and Brogdon out, Jones had an opportunity to earn significant playing time early this season, but he was suspended for the Nov. 9 opener at George Mason after violating team rules.
Virginia lost 63-59 to Mason. Three nights later, during warm-ups for the Cavaliers’ first game in the NIT Preseason Tip-Off, Jones hurt his right shoulder at JPJ. He didn’t play that night against Fairfield, which UVa rallied to beat, or against Delaware, a talented team that exploited Bennett’s lack of options at point guard.
“It was real disappointing,” said Jones, whose problem stems from a pinched nerve. “It was real frustrating. I’m out in warm-ups, I’m excited, thinking I’m going to make my debut, and I get hurt. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.
“I was telling my coaches, `It looks like I can’t win. I haven’t played in a year. I get eligible and I still can’t play.’ But I just went to rehab and got better, and thank God my nerve got better, and I got back out there to help the team.”
Jones re-injured his shoulder in a collision at the 9:09 mark of the second half and had to come out. But he soon re-entered and was able to finish the game. Only one Cavalier logged more minutes than Jones (25) — Mitchell (26).
“It felt good,” Jones said of his college debut. “Like I said, when I first got out there, I got winded a little bit, just because I was excited. But after that I settled in, and we just did great.”
Jones provided much-needed ballhandling for a team that had been using two swingmen — Joe Harris and Anderson — as well as freshman combo guard Taylor Barnette and senior walk-on Doug Browman at the point. Moreover, Jones’ quickness helped the `Hoos set their defense.
“So I was pleased that he got out there and did some good things,” Bennett said.
The Redhawks (1-1) pressed full-court after every basket they made, and UVa finished with 19 turnovers. If not for Jones, the count probably would have been higher.
“You could see early in the game we struggled,” Bennett said. “Justin had a few early turnovers. We looked not fluid, almost mechanical with it, which we’ve been all year because we’re playing forwards as our point guard, just because of the [injury] situation. So to have [Jones] I thought breathed life into us.”
Jones wasn’t the only UVa freshman to distinguish himself Saturday.
Mike Tobey, a 6-11 center, scored a season-high 17 points and added four rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench. Evan Nolte, a 6-8 forward, had 10 points and three assists in his second straight start. Anderson, who started for the third time, chipped in a season-high 11 points, four assists and two blocked shots, and the 6-3 Barnette had eight points and four assists, both season highs for him.
Tobey, after starting the opener, shifted to a reserve role against Fairfield and Delaware. He came into the Seattle game averaging only 3.7 points and shooting 31.3 percent from the floor. Those numbers, however, belie Tobey’s potential on the offensive end.
He was 5 for 8 from the floor and 7 for 8 from the line against Seattle.
“He has good touch — good left, good right,” Bennett said, but “he’s a little weak right now. You can see that, even though he’s 240. I think as the weight and strength comes, he’s going to be a real good player, and I’m glad he got those minutes.”
Harris, a 6-6 junior, came in averaging a team-high 18 points. He scored only seven Saturday and had no assists, one rebound and two turnovers.
“Joe wasn’t at his best today,” Bennett said. “I’ll praise him when he does well, but he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be. But we didn’t need that. I thought the other guys picked up the slack, and that’s what it’s about.”
Inside, the 6-8 Mitchell and 6-8 Darion Atkins dominated. Mitchell finished with 14 points and a career-best 16 rebounds, and he matched his career high with three steals. Atkins, a sophomore, had a productive 18 minutes off the bench, totaling eight points, six rebounds, a career-high four blocks, two steals and an assist.
“When I see Darion and [Mitchell] out there flying around, that’s a strength of ours,” Bennett said, “and that gives us the athleticism we need.”
In a game in which the Cavaliers shot 56 percent from the floor, they held the Redhawks to 25.4-percent accuracy.
“I just thought we made them earn for the most part,” Bennett said. “Sure, they were cold, but on most of those there was a hand in their face, and we contested and took care of the lane.”
Had the `Hoos defeated Delaware on Tuesday night, they would have been assured of playing two games at Madison Square Garden in New York City. That wasn’t the only reason the loss disappointed the Cavaliers.
“We got lucky against Fairfield, I think, and then [against] Delaware it really showed that we weren’t aggressive enough. We weren’t ready to play,” Mitchell said.
The coaching staff let the players know their effort wasn’t acceptable.
“We addressed some things about getting off to slow starts, not having the same energy that we really need to bring in order to be successful, and I feel like the guys really responded for this game,” Mitchell said Saturday. “The coaches kind of jumped on us a little bit the last two days, and I feel like the guys really bounced back.”