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Nov. 17, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — The sample size remains small, and it’s too early to say how good UVa men’s basketball team will be on offense this season. Still, the signs are encouraging for the ninth-ranked Cavaliers, whose four-game homestand continues Tuesday night against South Carolina State at John Paul Jones Arena.

Two games in, Virginia (2-0) is shooting 50.5 percent from the floor. Even more impressive has been the Wahoos’ accuracy from 3-point range. Joe Harris has taken his sharpshooting to the NBA, but his former team has hit 15 of 28 attempts (53.6 percent) from beyond the arc in routs of JMU and Norfolk State.

“I feel like we have a lot of weapons,” sophomore point guard London Perrantes said Sunday night after UVa destroyed Norfolk State 67-39 at JPJ.

“We said that during the summer, and now people can see it. A lot of freshmen stepping up, a lot of freshmen playing good minutes for us, and then we’ve got a lot of depth. We’ve got a lot of experience too. And we’re all unselfish. We all can make the next pass, and we all can make the open shot.”

Led by junior swingman Justin Anderson (7 for 10), six Cavaliers have made at least one trey this season. Against Norfolk State (1-1), the `Hoos were 10 for 21 from beyond the arc. Anderson, Perrantes and junior guard Malcolm Brogdon were a combined 7 for 11.

“My teammates did a great job getting me the ball in places I can score,” said Anderson, who was 3 for 5 from beyond the arc. “I stepped up and hit the shots, but all the credit to them.”

Off the bench, freshman guard Marial Shayok made two 3-pointers, and junior forward Evan Nolte, who like Perrantes missed the opener against JMU for disciplinary reasons, had a first-half trey.

The victory was UVa’s 12th in a row at JPJ. Eleven of those wins have been by at least 10 points.

“I thought we got a lot of good open looks, moving the ball well, and we just took advantage of it early and just shot with confidence,” Brogdon said of the Cavaliers’ torrid outside shooting Sunday night.

That was fine with head coach Tony Bennett. But the Cavaliers have outstanding low-post scorers in juniors Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, and Bennett wants the ball to go inside on most possessions, even if it’s then passed back out.

“It would be a mistake if we fall in love with the 3-point shot,” Bennett said Sunday night after Virginia’s home opener.

Bennett acknowledged, though, that the crisp ball movement led to open looks against the Spartans. On a night when the Cavaliers made 23 field goals, they totaled 19 assists.

“Of course you look at that, and you like those numbers,” Bennett said.

His players’ “unselfish, next-pass approach was good,” Bennett said, “and to see those [3-pointers] go in was certainly encouraging. When you get those, you don’t always have to take the first one, and that’s what I liked. Sometimes they passed it up to even get a better one, and then that certainly opened it up for us.”

In 2013-14, when the `Hoos won 30 games and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, their trademark was stifling man-to-man defense. But they also were efficient on offense, shooting 36.9 percent from 3-point range and 45.4 percent overall.

Could this be a better shooting team?

“I think it might be a little too early to tell,” Perrantes said. “I feel like we have a lot of shotmakers. We get open shots because we have people that are going to make the next pass.”

Norfolk State led for all of 16 seconds Sunday night. Guard Jeff Short, who finished with a game-high 19 points, hit a trey that put the Spartans up 6-5. At the other end, though, Brogdon answered with a 3-pointer, then followed that with an assist (to Tobey for a dunk) and an NBA-length trey.

The Cavaliers’ barrage of 3-pointers continued, and when Anderson connected from the right corner with 3:42 left in the half, it was 37-16.

“I think we did a great job executing tonight, and at JMU,” Anderson said. “We’re starting to get a little feel for each other … I think this team is slowly coming into its own, but we know we have a lot more to improve on.”

The cornerstones of last season’s team were Harris and 6-8 Akil Mitchell, an elite defender and rebounder. The Cavaliers might dip on defense without Mitchell, at least in the short term, but with Tobey, Gill and 6-8 senior Darion Atkins, who was 4 for 4 from the floor Sunday night, they’re more potent offensively in the frontcourt.

Tobey scored 10 points, and Gill and Atkins added nine apiece against Norfolk State.

“I think that’s going to help our outside game a lot, and not only for 3-point shots,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to be known just as a 3-point-shooting team. We want to be complete. And I think with those guys being really aggressive, it opens up a lot for [the other Cavaliers].”

The 6-5 Shayok, who sparkled Friday night at JMU, impressed again against Norfolk State. He finished with eight points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in only 12 minutes.

“He was very complete,” said Anderson, borrowing one of his head coach’s favorite phrases. “He did a great job defensively. He did a great job offensively … He was tremendous for us on both ends of the floor.”

Shayok said: “I feel like I played all right. I still need to work better on my closeouts and keeping the ball in front of me and just try to get better.”

He had jitters Sunday night, Shayok admitted with a smile.

“For sure. I felt like I was more nervous for this game than at JMU,” he said. “But it was a great experience, and I can’t wait for Tuesday.”

UVa hosts South Carolina State (0-2) at 7 p.m. It will mark the third consecutive road game for the Bulldogs. South Carolina State lost at Washington on Friday night and at San Francisco on Sunday.

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