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Jan. 26, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — About 40 hours after leaving Cassell Coliseum with a victory Thursday night, the UVa men’s basketball team took the court for another ACC game, this one in the friendlier surroundings of John Paul Jones Arena.

For a good portion of the first half, the Cavaliers looked a step slow Saturday, which perhaps was not surprising given the quick turnaround they faced after busing home from Blacksburg. At the break, Boston College led 26-24. Over the final 20 minutes of this matinee, however, the Wahoos imposed their will on the Eagles and won going away.

The final score was 65-51, UVa’s third straight win since an ugly loss at Clemson on Jan. 12.

“In the second half, I just felt like we were the tougher team on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive end,” senior point guard Jontel Evans said. “We were really disciplined and physical with them and didn’t want them to be able to run their offense so easily, and we took them out of it.”

The Eagles (9-10, 1-5) admitted as much after a game in which the `Hoos (14-5, 4-2) shot 77.3 percent from the floor in the second half. On defense, meanwhile, the Cavaliers held sophomore guard Lonnie Jackson, who hit three first-half 3-pointers, to only one shot after intermission.

“They were tougher than us,” said BC forward Ryan Anderson, an All-ACC candidate who turned the ball over five times. “Defensively they were tougher than us, and offensively they were doing a lot more than us as well.”

Junior swingman Joe Harris, Virginia’s leading scorer, made only 3 of 9 shots from the floor Saturday, and freshman forward Evan Nolte, who buried a career-high five 3-pointers Thursday night, got into early foul trouble against BC and played only 11 minutes. But the Cavaliers had plenty of standouts Saturday.

Junior big man Akil Mitchell totaled 16 points and six rebounds, and sophomore swingman Paul Jesperson contributed six points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. And then there was 6-6 swingman Justin Anderson, who scored a career-high 16 points. The high-flying freshman, a major asset for the third straight game, was 7 for 9 from the floor and 2 for 2 from the line.

“He’s focusing,” Evans said. “When he first got here, he would get distracted in practice, but now, if I see him goofing around, I’m telling him, `Stay focused, stay focused,’ because the coaches are looking at every practice and seeing what guys are doing. He’s been doing a great job in practice, and it’s translating to the game.”

Against the Hokies, Anderson had a career-high six assists. Against the Eagles, he attacked the basket and twice converted three-point plays.

“I think the last couple games, I’ve been able to drive and kick, drive and hit teammates for open shots,” Anderson said. “But I think now maybe that’s in the scouting reports, not to play off me as much, and it opens up a little bit for me to be able to get to the paint. I’m just taking the open look and trying to stay as unselfish as I can.”

Bennett noted that Anderson, who needed little time to become a crowd favorite at JPJ, has “that dynamic of athleticism, that explosiveness, that makes some plays for him, and it was good to see that on display.”

Occasionally, Anderson can be overexuberant, but Bennett is learning to live with that. The Cavaliers’ fourth-year coach wasn’t thrilled about a decision by Anderson in the game’s final minute, but “he’s passionate and he brings energy, and I like what I’m seeing the last couple games,” Bennett said.

With the shot clock off in the last minute, the Cavaliers had the ball and would have been content to dribble out the final seconds. But two BC players, refusing to concede, tried to trap Anderson in front of the UVa bench, and his instincts took over. He split the defenders and soared for a dunk that closed out the scoring.

After the game, Anderson apologized to BC coach Steve Donahue.

“Me, personally, I see [a late dunk] as disrespectful, and that’s not something that I wanted to do,” Anderson said. “When I saw that the trap came, I felt like I had to get out of it, and then I’d already jumped and I was in the air, so I just finished it.”

Donahue’s postgame response?

“He said [the dunk] was fine,” Anderson said. “I think he appreciated the apology more than anything.”

The Eagles start a four-guard lineup and rely heavily on 3-point shooting. The 6-8 Anderson is the only BC starter taller than 6-5, and Virginia capitalized on its size advantage. For the third straight game, the Cavaliers played without 6-8 sophomore Darion Atkins (leg injury), but they had plenty of firepower inside.

UVa, which got eight points off the bench from 6-11 freshman Mike Tobey, was credited with 40 points in the paint, to only 16 for BC. The `Hoos scored 26 of those points in the second half.

“Certainly that was a key,” Bennett said. “When you can get those [baskets] around the rim, that makes a huge difference.”

Mitchell said: “Our jump shots weren’t really falling the first half, so we knew we had to get points another way, and we did a good job of shifting our focus and getting it inside.”

After hitting a season-high 11 treys at Virginia Tech, UVa made only two Saturday. The second 3-pointer, by Harris, pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 47-35 with 8:06 left, and BC faced a double-digit deficit the rest of the way.

“Your offense can come and go,” Bennett said, “and that’s why it’s nice to have different guys step up. But defensively you gotta be so solid, and I thought that our defense held us in there while we labored offensively. We got some pretty good looks in the first half. We just missed.”

Jesperson finished with career highs in rebounds, steals and minutes (37) and played stellar second-half defense on Jackson, who entered the game shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.

“I thought Paul Jesperson had an understated game,” Bennett said, “but a very important game with his defense and his play on the glass. I thought that was significant, because [Jackson] might be one of the best shooters in the ACC, and [Jesperson] did a good job on him for the most part.

“The strength of Paul is, he’s sound, he’s heady. You can trust him, and he’s going to usually make the right decision. He’s in the right place … A smart player can find different ways to impact the game, and Paul did that this afternoon.”

So did Harris, who scored only seven points, eight below his average, but pulled down five rebounds, handed out four assists and tied his career high with three blocked shots.

Harris played 35 minutes at Cassell Coliseum, so he might have been battling fatigue Saturday. Evans, the team’s most experienced player, said playing two games in three days, at different sites, was a challenge.

“When I first got here, I used to joke with the old guys, tell `em to stop crying, but now I feel their pain,” Evans said with a smile. “It’s hard. You definitely gotta live in the cold tub and take care of your body, because it’s tough.”

UP NEXT: The Cavaliers are back at JPJ on Tuesday night. They’ll face No. 18 NC State at 7 o’clock in a game that ESPN2 will televise.

The Wolfpack (15-4, 4-2) played North Carolina in Raleigh on Saturday.

State may have the ACC’s most talented starting five. It includes junior forward C.J. Leslie and senior center Richard Howell, who’s averaging a double-double this season.

“They’re big, physical guys,” Mitchell said. “They’ve got experience, they know how to score, they’re one of the better frontcourts in the ACC, so we’ve got to come prepared. I told Evan in the shower just now, we’ve got to tighten down and be ready for a good one Tuesday. I’m excited about the competition.”

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