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Nov. 15, 2014

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HARRISONBURG — At the end of the UVa men’s basketball team’s final preseason practice at John Paul Jones Arena, ear-splitting crowd noise was cranked over the PA system, giving players a sample of what they could expect to encounter the next night at JMU.

For about 10 minutes Thursday evening, the Cavaliers practiced shooting in the din, communicating with each other mainly through hand signals.

“That really helped us today,” redshirt junior big man Anthony Gill said Friday night at the Dukes’ Convocation Center, where a capacity crowd of 6,782 fans turned out for the Wahoos’ first game in this city since the 1982-83 season.

JMU’s fans went home unhappy. Virginia’s supporters, who included Harrisonburg native Ralph Sampson, enjoyed themselves thoroughly. The ninth-ranked Cavaliers led by 18 points at halftime and never trailed in a 79-51 romp.

“They had a great environment in here,” said junior swingman Justin Anderson, who scored a game-high 18 points. “It was a tough road game to start the year off, but it was good to challenge us … Their crowd was very intense, and I think we did a good job responding.”

Not since Jan. 25, 1997, had the Dukes drawn more for a home game, and the crowd, with some assistance from the school’s band, was deafening at times Friday night.

“You really couldn’t hear during timeouts, because they put us right by the band,” UVa head coach Tony Bennett said. “That was unbelievable. It was really loud. Guys were just looking at me, and I could tell the freshmen were like, `What’s going on?’ They have not been in that setting.”

Three of those freshmen made significant contributions on a night the Cavaliers played without sophomore point guard London Perrantes and junior forward Evan Nolte, both suspended for the opener for offseason violations of team rules.

Devon Hall, a 6-5 redshirt freshman, started in Perrantes’ place at point guard and finished with five points, two assists and a game-high five steals in 27 minutes.

“Devon was very valuable out there,” Bennett said.

Hall said: “It was just a matter of being confident. I thought I was going to be really nervous, but once the ball tipped, I was ready to go.”

All-America candidate Malcolm Brogdon, a redshirt junior, started alongside Hall in the backcourt and finished with 14 points and a team-high four assists. Asked what he told Hall before the game, Brogdon said, “I said, `Just relax and play basketball. You do this every day. It’s your first college game, but be poised.’

“He’s been watching London. London’s one of the most poised players you’ll ever play with. I think he’s learned from him, and Devon played really well tonight.”

Off the bench, 6-5 freshman Marial Shayok had six points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 21 minutes, and 6-7 freshman Isaiah Wilkins filled the stat sheet in his 19 minutes, totaling eight points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals.

“He has very good feel,” Bennett said of Wilkins. “I thought Marial gave us a nice lift, too, but that was a good opening act for Isaiah.”

Had the Cavaliers’ starting post players, the 6-8 Gill and 7-0 junior Mike Tobey, not been in foul trouble almost from the start, Wilkins’ role would have been smaller Friday night. But he seized his opportunity.

“I wanted to come in and bring energy, and [the coaches] were telling me, `Bring energy, play with high energy, defend as well as you can, and we’ll go from there,’ ” said Wilkins, who like Brogdon starred at Greater Atlanta Christian School.

In one memorable first-half sequence, 6-8 senior Darion Atkins missed a jump hook for UVa, and Wilkins soared for a putback dunk. Seven seconds later, at the other end, Wilkins took a charge.

“Isaiah, he’s a great player,” Gill said, “and when I was on the bench with fouls, he came right in and picked everything up.”

Gill, all but unstoppable inside, scored nine points in the first 4:10, but he went to the bench with his second personal at the 14:48 mark of the first half. Tobey joined him there about 80 seconds later after picking up his second foul.

For the game, Tobey (six points, six rebounds) fouled out in only 15 minutes. Gill avoided disqualification but played only 16 minutes. He finished with 15 points (on 6-for-8 shooting) and, if not for foul trouble, might well have scored 25 or more.

“The coaches kind of lifted me up throughout the game, saying, `Well, at least your points-per-minute right now is really great,’ ” Gill said, smiling. “I was just trying to stay positive through the whole thing and be ready.”

Atkins, the only senior on UVa’s roster, pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds and also scored seven points. Foul trouble (and suspensions) forced Bennett to use some unorthodox lineups, and during one stretch of the first half, Atkins was on the court with three freshmen (Hall, Shayok and Wilkins) and Anderson.

“We looked to D.A. for leadership, and he was telling us to just play ball,” Wilkins said. “He said, `Don’t worry about the surroundings. We’re all in this together.’ “

The Cavaliers were far from perfect in the opener. They allowed JMU (0-1) to hit 7 of 16 shots from 3-point range in the first half, and they turned the ball over 11 times in the second half.

“We got wobbly at the end. We just got sloppy,” Bennett said. “But [there were] some stretches of good basketball. We just gotta lengthen those and keep getting better at that.”

UVa was exceptionally efficient on offense for much of the game, shooting 69.2 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes and 58 percent overall. Moreover, Virginia outrebounded the Dukes, who also had two players suspended, 38-27 and held them to 28.3-percent accuracy from the floor.

“I thought early in the game, obviously being in this environment, that there had to be some composure,” Bennett said. “We talked about not getting sped up, and I thought offensively we were moving the ball well, sharing it and getting into the lane, getting rhythm shots. You saw some unselfishness that way. Got good looks early, capitalized on `em with some inside-outside [action], so I thought that gave us the jump that we needed to settle in.”

Anderson said: “I think we showed glimpses of great things, but we have a lot of room for improvement.”

On a night when the Dukes attempted 26 treys — they made one in the second half — the `Hoos took only seven shots from beyond the arc. Brogdon was 0 for 1, Hall 1 for 1 and Anderson 4 for 5.

The defending ACC champion Cavaliers are coming off a season in which they won 30 games and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen. Their top shooter from 2013-14, Joe Harris, is now a Cleveland Cavalier, and the `Hoos have a different look on offense this season.

“Not one guy can replace what Joe did,” Anderson said. “Joe was a really good shooter for us for four years, and we have to do it collectively. And that’s guys getting open, getting their feet set and being ready to fire.”

In the JMU student section, the fans stayed on their feet throughout the first half. At intermission, however, some students headed to the exits, and the exodus continued throughout the second half.

“I think we dealt with it well,” Hall said of the atmosphere at the Convocation Center.

Of the scholarship players available for UVa in the opener, only freshman Jack Salt did not get in the game. Salt, a 6-11 center from New Zealand, is likely to redshirt this season.

“I think he’s leaning that way,” Bennett said, “but there’s not a final decision yet.”

UP NEXT: Virginia’s home opener is Sunday at 7 p.m. against Norfolk State at John Paul Jones Arena. NSU opened Friday night with a 81-43 victory over Division II Pfeiffer.

The Cavaliers lead their series with the Spartans 3-0. This will be the third straight season the teams have met at JPJ.

“We look forward to going home,” Anderson said Friday night. “We couldn’t wait to be home, even before this game. But we knew that we had a task in front of us, and whatever’s thrown in front of us, we want to make sure that we focus in on that, and then we worry about what comes after that.”

On UVa season tickets, the starting time for the Norfolk State game is listed as 6 p.m. Those tickets had already gone to press when TV picked up the game and moved tipoff to 7 p.m.

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