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Nov. 19, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Off to its best start in six seasons under head coach Tony Bennett, the UVa men’s basketball team has yet to be seriously tested.

That’s likely to change Friday night when George Washington (2-0) visits John Paul Jones Arena. The game will be the the Cavaliers’ fourth in eight days. The Colonials will be playing for the first time since Sunday, when they hammered Rutgers 70-53 in Piscataway, N.J.

For ninth-ranked UVa (3-0), whose average margin of victory this season is 25.3 points, the Colonials figure to be “a really big step up [in competition],” 6-8 senior Darion Atkins said Tuesday night.

“They made the [NCAA] tournament last year. They’ve got a lot of experience. They play really physical, and it’s going to be a great test for us Friday.”

Neither JMU nor Norfolk State posed much of a challenge for Virginia, which beat the former 79-51 in Harrisonburg on Friday and the latter 67-39 at JPJ two nights later.

The Cavaliers’ third opponent proved more difficult to put away Tuesday night, thanks in large part to the second-half shooting of South Carolina State guard Karon Wright. In the end, though, the Bulldogs couldn’t match the size, depth or talent of Virginia, which won 75-55 before a crowd of 12,493 at JPJ.

“I wish we could have maybe separated a little more in the second half, but we’ll learn from that,” Bennett said after his team’s 13th consecutive victory at JPJ.

“In the first half, I thought we were solid, especially defensively. There was a lot of activity. We did a good job on the ball-screen defense. And credit to South Carolina State. I watched them play the first two games, and they played better in this game. They didn’t die. They just kept battling, and they threw in some tough 3s.”

The one-sided victories “help in terms of getting our confidence up [and showing] where we can improve and what areas we’re strong in,” redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “But at the same time I think it can be fool’s gold if we look at this and say that we’ve made it and that we’re going to be fine. We still have so much to work on.”

In each of the Cavaliers’ three games, an opposing player has torched them from beyond the arc. JMU’s Hari Hall was 4 for 7, as was Norfolk State’s Jeff Short. Wright, a 5-10 sophomore, hit five treys in the second half Tuesday night.

“The ability to contest those 3s and not let them get in rhythm is very important,” Bennett said. “Certainly there have been some stretches where we haven’t done a great job.”

Overall, though, the Bulldogs (0-3) shot only 32.8 percent from the floor, and UVa outrebounded them 46-26. Five players had at least five boards for the Wahoos, led by 6-7 freshman Isaiah Wilkins (in only 13 minutes off the bench) and 6-8 redshirt junior Anthony Gill, with eight apiece.

The `Hoos weren’t as efficient offensively as in their first two games — they shot 47.4 percent from the floor and turned the ball over 12 times Tuesday night — but four players scored in double figures: Brogdon (17 points), junior swingman Justin Anderson (17), Gill (11) and junior center Mike Tobey (10).

After starting the first two games, Tobey came off the bench Tuesday night, and Atkins joined Gill, Anderson, Brogdon and sophomore point guard London Perrantes in the first five. Matchups often will dictate which post players start.

“Me, A.G. and Mike, we try not to get caught up in that,” said Atkins, who contributed eight points and seven rebounds in his first start since Dec. 30, 2013.

“Coach Bennett stressed to us that you never know who’s going to start. We just need to all come out and play our games, and everything will take care of itself.”

The 6-6 Anderson continued his hot shooting from 3-point range, hitting 3 of 6 attempts. Anderson, who made 30 of 102 shots (29.4 percent) from beyond the arc in 2013-14, is 10 for 16 (62.5) this season.

“The offseason’s all about physical improvement and skill development, and Justin, I know, really tried to develop a consistent shot,” Bennett said. “And so it certainly looks better, and I hope that holds up. You can’t just hang your hat on it and say, `All I’m going to do is stand out there and shoot 3s.’ I want him impacting the game in a bunch of ways, but that’s important for us. If he can continue to be consistent, I like that.”

Anderson said: “I just want to stay humble and keep getting shots and just keep knocking them down when I’m open.”

He’s best-known, of course, for his leaping ability and thunderous dunks, and Anderson supplied more highlight-tape material Tuesday night. On the final play of the first half, he drove for a scoop shot that missed. In a flash, though, Anderson soared to throw down a one-handed slam that made it 41-20.

“When I played Nerf ball, I was really good at that,” Bennett said, smiling.

On a night when Virginia was 6 for 16 from 3-point range, Brogdon scored all his points inside the arc, repeatedly slashing through the South Carolina State defense for layups. Against Norfolk State, the All-America candidate had scored only six points.

“Malcolm got going today,” Anderson said Tuesday, “and that was beautiful to see, to get his rhythm again, and it came at a perfect time, because we’re going to need him on Friday to be aggressive.”

GW’s starters include center Kevin Larsen, who played with Anderson at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., and guard Joe McDonald, who played with Atkins at Landon School in Bethesda, Md.

“That’s my boy right there,” Anderson said of Larsen, who’s averaging 11 points and nine rebounds this season.

“That’s my homeboy,” Atkins said of McDonald, who’s averaging 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.

McDonald, whom UVa recruited but did not offer a scholarship, is “going to come out and play with great energy,” Atkins said. “He’s a great scorer. It’s going to be interesting to see how him and London match up, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Colonials are “going to prepare hard, we’re going to prepare hard, and we can’t wait to accept the challenge when they come into JPJ,” Anderson said.

“It’s a great opportunity. Whenever opportunity knocks, you want to be ready to respond and to open that door.”

The South Carolina State game was the Cavaliers’ third in five days, but fatigue should not be a factor against GW. No `Hoo played more than 25 minutes Tuesday night.

“That’s where I think the depth has been good,” Bennett said. “I think this was important tonight from a minutes standpoint to be as ready as we can on Friday.”

Atkins said: “We’re using our depth to our advantage, and everyone’s playing well so far.”

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