By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The first points at John Paul Jones Arena on Tuesday night came on a tip-in by 6-11 sophomore Mike Tobey of a teammate’s missed shot.
The final points came on a left-handed jump hook by the right-handed Caid Kirven, a 6-8 sophomore who, unlike most walk-ons, has a fan club on Twitter.
Whether Tobey is a dues-paying member of the Kirven Krew is unclear, but he was ecstatic about his classmate’s first points as a college player.
“That was nice,” Tobey said, smiling. “He’s been showing me how to do it.”
The crowd of 9,764 had much to cheer Tuesday night at JPJ, where UVa never trailed in a 67-42 rout of Navy. The Cavaliers shot 56.6 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Midshipmen 40-19. Senior Joe Harris returned to form offensively, redshirt sophomore Malcolm Brogdon had another strong game, Tobey dominated inside and redshirt sophomore Anthony Gill came off the bench to score a game-high 18 points.
A first-team All-ACC selection in 2012-13, Harris scored only one point Saturday in Virginia’s 70-57 win over Davidson in Charlotte, N.C., though he contributed in other ways.
To the fans and media members asking, “What’s wrong with Joe?” Harris provided an answer Tuesday night: Nothing’s wrong.
Coming off a Monday practice in which he shot exceptionally well, Harris made 7 of 8 attempts from the floor against Navy (2-3), including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, and finished with 18 points. He scored 11 in the first half, after which Virginia (3-1) led 32-17.
“He was good, and it was nice to see him in a little more rhythm shooting,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “We want him to certainly have a green-light mentality, within reason. And I think Joe doesn’t usually force. Sometimes he might drive in there and be aggressive that way, but he’s got pretty good shot discernment.”
Harris said he focused on “trying to be aggressive and assertive and create shots for my teammates and myself.”
A 6-6 guard from Chelan, Wash., Harris remains the Wahoos’ No. 1 threat on offense, “but the nice thing is, as I pointed out,” Bennett said, “in the Davidson game when he was not scoring as much, other guys stepped up.”
Bennett continues to experiment with different lineups. For the second straight game, he started freshman London Perrantes at point guard and Brogdon at the 2. Tobey got his first start of the season, and Gill moved to the bench.
“It’s always nice to start, but like Coach said, it doesn’t really mean much,” Tobey said. “With the depth on our team, anyone could start on any given night. If I come off the bench or I start, I just come out there with as much energy and fire as I can.”
Gill, who began his college career at South Carolina, could not have been much more efficient against Navy. He made 8 of 9 shots from the floor and pulled down five rebounds in his 18 minutes. During a second-half stretch in which Virginia scored 11 points, Gill accounted for all of them.
“I trust Coach Bennett in everything that he wants us to do, so if he wants me to come off the bench, I’ll come off the bench,” Gill said. “If he wants me to start, I’ll start. He’s trying different things right now just to see what fits better.”
As he had in Charlotte, where he scored 18 points against Davidson, Tobey towered over the opposing big men Tuesday night. The Midshipmen chose not to double-team UVa when the ball went in the post, and that played to Tobey’s advantage.
“When they don’t do that, he’s got a pretty nice opportunity, and he’s going to score most of those times,” Bennett said.
Tobey made 6 of 10 shots from the floor, the most memorable a gorgeous hook modeled on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s signature shot. He also grabbed eight rebounds and had two steals in 24 minutes.
“I just think Mike’s playing at a high level,” Bennett said. “He can score, and I think that’s important for us, because we’re not shooting it particularly well on the outside.”
That’s an understatement. Against Navy, the Cavaliers made only 3 of 15 shots from beyond the 3-point arc. For the season, Virginia is 12 for 52 from long range.
“What can I say?” Bennett said. “You just gotta keep taking them, within reason. Guys gotta know who they are in terms of the shot selection, and we’re more of an inside-out team, but if they’re room-and-rhythm looks, you gotta step up and take `em.”
Free-throw shooting is another concern for UVa. In its first two games — a win over JMU and a loss to then-No. 14 VCU — Virginia was 26 for 47 from the line. The `Hoos shot better against Davidson, making 16 of 21 free throws, but missed 7 of 11 on Tuesday night.
“A couple guys look a little anxious at the free-throw line, but hopefully they’ll keep getting there,” Bennett said.
Brogdon, one of UVa’s better free-throw shooters, did not get to the line against Navy. Once again, though, he sparked Virginia’s offense. Three nights after scoring a career-high 17 points against Davidson, he had 13 against Navy, on 6-for-10 shooting.
“Playing the off guard is what I’ve always done,” said Brogdon, who started at the point in Virginia’s first three games. “Getting people involved or scoring, I feel like all of that is my strong suit, so playing 1 or 2, I’m just going to try to play my role to the best. If scoring is what my team needs, I’m going to try to do that while also trying to get people involved.”
During his long rehab from an operation on his left foot — he sat out last season — the 6-5 Brogdon devoted countless hours to trying to become a more consistent shooter. His percentages this season: 55.9 from the floor, 50 from 3-point range, and 75 from the line.
“It’s good to see hard work pay off,” Brogdon said. “It gives me more and more confidence. Coach Bennett believes in me. He keeps telling me to shoot and lets me play with freedom.”
UP NEXT: At 4 p.m. Saturday, UVa (3-1) hosts Liberty (1-3) at JPJ as part of the Corpus Christi Challenge. Liberty has lost three straight since winning its opener against another Lynchburg team, Division III Randolph College.
The `Hoos lead the series 6-2, but the Flames won the teams’ most recent meeting, Nov. 25, 2008, at JPJ.
Behind guard Seth Curry, who later transferred to Duke, Liberty shocked UVa 86-82.
Ritchie McKay was head coach of that Liberty team, and his assistants included Brad Soucie. Virginia hired Bennett in the spring of 2009, and McKay and Soucie joined his new staff. McKay is the Cavaliers’ associate head coach, and Soucie is director of basketball operations.