Unlikely Heroes Emerge for Bennett's Team
Dec. 30, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the final minutes of a game whose outcome had long since been decided, UVa center Mike Tobey found himself unguarded behind the arc, the basketball in his hands.
“I was feeling good,” Tobey said later, and understandably so. Virtually every shot the 6-11 freshman had tried against Wofford had gone in, and now he launched his fourth 3-point attempt of the season. The ball, naturally, dropped through the net, giving Virginia a 72-32 lead with 3:12 left and eliciting another roar from the crowd at John Paul Jones Arena.
It was that kind of afternoon for Tobey, who hit 9 of 10 shots from the floor, and for the Cavaliers, who trounced the Terriers 74-39 in a Sunday matinee.
Eight days earlier, Virginia’s eight-game winning streak had ended with an unsightly loss to Old Dominion in the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic. That UVa team, which appeared uninspired for much of the game at the Richmond Coliseum, bore little resemblance to the determined group that took on Wofford (6-7).
“We definitely shouldn’t have lost that game [to ODU],” Tobey said Sunday. “It was not a good way to go into our little winter break. It was important for us to bounce back today, and I think we did pretty well.”
Against Wofford, which was coming off a road win over Xavier, the Wahoos (10-3) went ahead to stay about nine minutes in, on a drive by junior swingman Joe Harris, and led 31-17 at the break. In its final non-conference game, Virginia shot a season-high 63.8 percent from the floor and, for the third time this season, held its opponent to fewer than 40 points.
“It was good to see that energy,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said, “because without it, if you don’t play with passion, you’re not going to have a chance at this level.”
Midway through the second half, Virginia forward Akil Mitchell said, he looked up at the scoreboard and saw Wofford had only “20-some points, and I was like, `Wow, we really stepped up and did what we needed to do tonight.’ “
The crowd of 9,387 included Bennett’s two sisters, his brother-in-law and his mother. They saw a game in which Tobey and senior point guard Doug Browman, in particular, turned in stellar performances.
With one of UVa’s starting post players, 6-8 sophomore Darion Atkins, limited to seven minutes because of a leg injury, Tobey played a career-high 27 minutes Sunday. He did not squander his opportunity. Tobey scored with his right hand, with his left hand, on face-up jump shots, on turnaround jumpers, on half-hooks and, finally, from 3-point range.
“Being able to play more minutes definitely helped my confidence,” said Tobey, who has worn a protective mask on the court since breaking his nose Dec. 8.
Against the Terriers, Tobey totaled 19 points and six rebounds, both career highs. His previous highs were 17 points (Nov. 17 against Seattle), four boards (Seattle) and 18 minutes (Nov. 9 versus George Mason). He entered Sunday’s game averaging 5.1 points.
“We all know how talented Tobey is offensively,” said Harris, who finished with 15 points. “We see it in practice pretty often. Sometimes defense is what might limit him from getting on the floor. But nights like tonight, we know that Tobey’s capable of doing that at any time.”
Wofford has no players taller than 6-8, and its frontcourt starters are listed at 6-8 and 6-6, respectively. Bennett challenged his post players to take advantage of their size advantage, and they complied. Atkins wasn’t a factor, but the 6-8, 234-pound Mitchell had 15 points and six boards and tied his career high with four steals. Tobey, for his part, met little resistance around the basket.
The Terriers “were small, obviously, you could see that, and I thought we took advantage of the mismatches,” Bennett said. “Mike showed his soft touch. He really has a nice touch. It’s just a matter of time. As his strength comes and his experience [grows], he’ll get better, but he can score, and he has some skill. It was [against] smaller guys, but you still gotta put the ball in the basket, and I thought those were some nice offensive stretches for him.”
Senior Jontel Evans remains sidelined with a foot injury, so freshman Teven Jones made his eighth start at point guard for Virginia. But when Jones went to the bench for the first time, with 10:40 left in the first half, Bennett replaced him not with freshman Taylor Barnette but with Browman, a walk-on from the Richmond area.
“At times I’ve been going with Taylor,” Bennett said, “but Doug’s practiced well and brings the experience of a senior that knows our system. We thought we needed that. That’s why he got more time, and he was very effective out there.”
The 5-11 Browman’s primary task was to hound 6-1 Karl Cochran, Wofford’s leading scorer (17.1 ppg). Browman handled his assignment with aplomb. Cochran missed 10 of 11 shots from the floor, including 6 of 7 from long range, and scored only five points, in large part because of Browman’s tenacious defense.
“He took Cochran out of the game,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “We really had a hard time getting Cochran into some things. Browman really managed the game from his spot. He has a great understanding of his role. He’s not going to turn it over, ran his team and guarded people. Something tells me that Tony is going to find a place for someone like that.”
Browman entered the game with career highs of three points, three rebounds, two assists and 13 minutes. He didn’t score Sunday but handed out six assists and grabbed two boards in 23 minutes. The Browman assist that most thrilled UVa fans was a lob pass in transition to freshman Justin Anderson, whose second slam of the game made it 74-32 with 2:50 remaining.
“I had an idea that I was going to play,” Browman said. “I didn’t know I was going to play that many minutes, but I’m always ready for it.”
His first-half performance impressed the critic whose opinion counts most at UVa. Bennett started Browman to open the second half. Jones replaced Browman with 14:55 remaining. About 80 seconds later, Jones hit his second 3-pointer of the season. He buried another trey two minutes later to push UVa’s lead to 51-21.
“It would be great if we could get Jontel back,” Harris said, “but Doug and Teven are both completely capable of running point.”
The `Hoos don’t play again until next Sunday night, when they open their ACC schedule against North Carolina at JPJ. Evans, a member of the ACC’s all-defensive team in 2011-12, hasn’t played since reinjuring his right foot Dec. 5 against Tennessee. Asked Sunday if Evans might return for the UNC game, Bennett said it’s too early to tell.
“If it goes great, you never know,” Bennett said. “But we’ll see how he progresses.”
Atkins’ status is unclear, too. His leg has been bothering him for some time. “We’ll get it looked at, and hopefully it’s nothing too serious,” Bennett said. “But I thought the guys stepped up and did a good job in his absence and then Jontel’s absence … Those are the things you need from a team.”