By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At Florida State’s Donald L. Tucker Center on Jan. 4, the UVa men’s basketball team never trailed. Two weeks later, at John Paul Jones Arena, the Cavaliers trailed for 113 seconds, all early in the game.
Is it any wonder the Florida State Seminoles looked so frustrated Saturday at JPJ?
“We’re a frustrating team to play, I’m sure,” UVa senior Akil Mitchell said. “It’s hard to score against us.”
FSU knows that better than any other team in the ACC this season. Coach Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers have defeated the `Noles twice: 62-50 in Tallahassee and, now, 78-66 in Charlottesville.
“You have to give Coach Bennett and his team an awful lot of credit,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said Saturday afternoon. “The score does not indicate how well they played in this game.”
The Wahoos (13-5, 4-1), off to their best start in ACC play since 1994-95, led by 19 at halftime and by 21 with 7:40 remaining. The `Noles (12-5, 3-2) rallied, as they had in Tallahassee, and trimmed their deficit to 12 on a 3-pointer by guard Devon Bookert with 4:17 to play.
The home fans grew anxious, but UVa guard Joe Harris eased their concerns, burying a 3-pointer that made it 72-57 with 2:11 to play.
Harris, who missed all but the first 2:23 with a concussion in Tallahassee, sparkled in the rematch. The 6-6 senior hit 6 of 8 shots from the floor, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and scored a game-high 18 points.
“It always helps to have Joe,” UVa center Mike Tobey said. “He’s really been leading us well. He’s been a lot more vocal, too, on and off the court.”
Tobey, a 6-11 sophomore, struggled at times inside against the ACC’s tallest frontcourt, but he finished with 13 hard-earned points. Redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon (16) and sophomore swingman Justin Anderson (10) also scored in double figures for UVa, which swept its regular-season series with FSU for the first time since 2000-01.
The 6-5 Brogdon also tied his career high with four steals and had a career-best six assists.
“He’s been solid since we started ACC play,” Bennett said. “He’s shown his completeness: taking care of the ball, guarding. His size and strength have helped. He hit a couple nice floaters and pullups, and he seems more comfortable on the floor early.”
The Cavaliers looked comfortable at both ends of the court Saturday. In Tallahassee, they won despite shooting only 32.8 percent from the floor. At JPJ, they made 27 of 55 shots (49.1 percent) against the `Noles. The difference?
“We didn’t have Joe [at FSU],” Bennett noted. “We could have used Joe down there, and now we had Joe and we had our full arsenal.
“He draws attention. He was in rhythm, and then that opens up driving lanes. They’ve got to chase him. A lot of things start happening when he’s out there. He draws a lot of attention, and he works hard without the ball.”
The Seminoles blocked nine shots Saturday, but they had no answers for Harris, a first-team All-ACC selection in 2012-13. On the final play of the first half, he drove baseline for a reverse layup that dropped through with one second left.
“When you go against guys that big, you have to figure out how to use the rim, how to use fakes, how to get it away from your body,” Bennett said. “Joe’s been working on that stuff, and I thought that was a very crafty move.”
For the fourth time in their ACC games, the `Hoos bolted to a commanding lead. The exception was at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke scored the first eight points Monday in a 69-65 win over UVa.
Against FSU on Saturday, Virginia led 25-9 with 9:40 left in the first half.
“I think everything’s clicked in terms of [playing] solid defense, guys have shot it well, we’ve had a level of composure and patience,” Bennett said of the fast starts. “We’re just getting good looks, and the guys have been ready. There’s been a sense of urgency.”
Mitchell said: “I can’t tell you what’s behind it. I don’t know. Everybody’s locked in and everybody’s focused from the beginning. When everybody’s on their assignments and we know what we’re supposed to do from the jump, it just makes the game so much easier, because the teams are frustrated early and we can play our style of ball.”
Especially at JPJ, where the Cavaliers were 20-2 last season. “It was great to come back and play at home, just with the energy in the building,” Harris said. “The fans were really into it.”
With the outcome decided, the game took an ugly turn in the final minute. With 18.2 seconds left, Anderson soared to slam home a lob pass from Brogdon, pushing UVa’s lead to 78-62, but then was assessed a technical for hanging on the rim.
While FSU guard Ian Miller shot two free throws at the other end — he made both — tempers flared among the other nine players standing at midcourt. UVa guard London Perrantes and Florida State forward Okaro White were called for technicals, and UVa reserves Darion Atkins and Teven Jones were ejected for leaving the bench area.
When play finally resumed, the final 18 seconds passed without incident. But when the teams were shaking hands after the game, White shoved Perrantes, and players again had to be separated.
The Seminoles “seemed like they were pretty frustrated throughout the game,” Harris said. “It’s part of basketball. Guys jaw at one another occasionally, be physical and stuff. It just got a little out of hand at the end. Especially in that situation. The game’s over with. None of that stuff is necessary.”
The late-game controversy, Bennett said, “doesn’t take away from the quality of [Virginia’s] play. Things happen in the heat of battle. I’ll have to take a look at it. It was unfortunate. I don’t think we were trying to disrespect anybody … I have great respect for Leonard and his team. They play hard. We played hard for the most part, and hopefully that was just a little bit of a mirage.”
Bennett smiled. “I told our guys they’re lovers, not fighters.”
Hamilton said: “I think sometimes things happen and you got to learn from it, grow from it and move on … I know we will deal with it appropriately, and I’m sure [Bennett] will. I hope that it doesn’t take away from how well they played.”
The victory was an auspicious start to a three-game homestand for UVa, which hosts North Carolina on Monday night and Virginia Tech next Saturday afternoon. Bennett said official Jamie Luckie told him that Atkins and Jones will be available Monday night.
“That was my only concern,” Bennett said.
The Cavaliers weren’t perfect Saturday, but they bore no resemblance to the team that stumbled through an 87-52 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 30. Virginia’s strides since then have been impressive.
“We’ve been playing good ball,” Bennett said. “I told our guys before, and I’ll continue to say it: After the Tennessee game, we didn’t say to ourselves, `Well, now we gotta go to Florida State and get a game, and then we gotta come home and get a win against Wake, and we gotta go to NC State …’ It was about: Play the right way. Focus on the quality. The outcome takes care of itself. That’s the process-oriented approach that all teams, I think, should have, and we have to have. And it’s about the quality of our play, taking care of the ball, getting good shots, getting back, doing the little things that we say help us be successful.”
FSU can attest to UVa’s success. The ‘Noles came to town seeking revenge. They left disappointed.
“We knew they would try to get a bounce-back game, but we wanted one, too,” Mitchell said. “After what happened at Duke, we were really excited to be back at home. It was really a clash of titans here, and I think we came out on top.”
ON THE BIG STAGE: In its second straight appearance on ESPN’s Monday night showcase, UVa hosts North Carolina (11-6, 1-3) at 7 o’clock at JPJ.
UNC got its first ACC win Saturday afternoon, defeating Boston College in Chapel Hill.
The Cavaliers and the Tar Heels split their two regular-season meetings in 2012-13. UVa won 61-52 at JPJ on Jan. 6, and Carolina prevailed 93-81 at the Dean E. Smith Center on Feb. 16.
As of Saturday afternoon, about 700 tickets remained for the UNC game. Tickets can be purchased online at VirginiaSports.com, by phone at 800-542-8821 during business hours Monday, and at the JPJ box office Monday.