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Dec. 21, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — At halftime Sunday, Harvard had one field goal and trailed sixth-ranked Virginia by 31 points before a delighted sellout crowd at John Paul Jones Arena.

“I gave up the one field goal,” UVa center Mike Tobey volunteered later with a sheepish smile.

Tobey’s lapse, which occurred less than four minutes into the game, was quickly forgiven and forgotten on an afternoon when the Cavaliers turned in perhaps their most dominant performance in six seasons under head coach Tony Bennett.

A day after top-ranked Kentucky scored the first 24 points in an 83-44 drubbing of UCLA, Virginia’s penultimate non-conference game was equally as one-sided.

Sixth-ranked Virginia led 39-8 at the break and cruised to a 76-27 victory at JPJ. Against the Wahoos’ stifling man-to-man defense, the Crimson (7-2) made only 8 of 50 field-goal attempts.

Virginia, which allowed only 26 points in its Nov. 29 win over Rutgers, tied the NCAA record for fewest field goals allowed in a half Sunday.

“It just shows how good our defense is,” Tobey said.

Harvard, which entered on a six-game winning streak, didn’t reach double figures until the 16:38 mark of the second half.

“When everyone’s unselfish and we play like that on the defensive end, we get [opponents] frustrated and then start wearing them down,” junior forward Evan Nolte said.

At the other end, the `Hoos shot 59.6 percent from the floor. Tobey, a 7-0 junior, hit his first six shots from the floor — he missed only one all game — and finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.

“He was tremendous,” UVa guard Malcolm Brogdon said.

At the first media timeout, Tobey had all of Virginia’s nine points, and Harvard had two.

“I thought we’d be ready, but I didn’t know we’d be that ready,” Bennett said. “I didn’t know Mike was going to be on fire. So it was just the perfect thing that came together.”

The victory was the Cavaliers’ 17th straight at JPJ and gave them their first 11-0 start since 1992-93.

“I thought they were terrific in every facet,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker.

The `Hoos limited the Crimson to its lowest point total and worst field-goal percentage (16.0) in eight seasons under Amaker, a former Duke star who grew up in Northern Virginia.

“We just came out from the get-go, and we laid the hammer down,” UVa big man Darion Atkins said.

Harvard’s starters were a combined 1 for 32 from the floor. Senior Wesley Saunders, the reigning Ivy League player of the year, was 0 for 7 and finished with four points, 17 fewer than his average coming in.

Brogdon, a 6-5, 215-pound redshirt junior, began the game on Saunders, a 6-5, 215-pound senior. When Brogdon was on the bench, 6-5, 207-pound freshman Marial Shayok shadowed Saunders, who had little room in which to operate.

“He’s a very good player,” Brogdon said of Saunders, who as a boy in Los Angeles played rec-league ball with London Perrantes, now Virginia’s starting point guard.

“I know he likes to put the ball on the ground and get to the paint, and then he likes to spin off, pump fake, get you up in the air, and he’s very crafty. So I tried to just stay down on his shot fakes and try to contain him and make him shoot over the top of me.”

No matter who was covering Saunders, Bennett said, “I thought we were disciplined in staying down, and every shot he took, really, was going to be contested, and then we were plugging the gaps.”

Brogdon, a first-team All-ACC selection in 2013-14, when Virginia advanced to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen, came into this season looking to establish himself as a defensive force, too. Sunday’s game offered more evidence of his prowess at that end.

“He’s got that frame, the big hands,” Bennett said, “and he’s like a roadblock when he’s set and he’s really in the right frame of mind. And he’s embraced that. You can see that.

“He’s had that [all along], coming from a great defensive program [at Greater Atlanta Christian], but he’s continued to improve. And that’s nice, because you go against so many good scorers in our league that we’ll need those guys to be able to do it. It was good to see Marial taking a step in that direction, and we’ll keep challenging other guys too.”

Amaker unsuccessfully tried to lure Brogdon to Harvard, and it was easy to see Sunday why Amaker wanted Brogdon. In addition to playing lockdown defense on Saunders, Brogdon totaled 15 points (on 6-for-9 shooting), six rebounds, six assists, one block and one steal in his 28 minutes.

Brogdon and Tobey were the only Cavaliers to score in double figures, but four of their teammates contributed at least seven points: Shayok (seven), Atkins (eight), junior swingman Justin Anderson (eight) and Nolte (nine).

“We’re playing at a very high level right now,” Brogdon said. “We have guys that are all bought-in to the system and to our defense, and I think our defense leads into our offense.”

Bennett said: “I think we were sharp. Harvard’s a lot better than they showed. Mike got us off to a great start offensively, and defensively we were really ready.”

The Cavaliers came out of a lengthy exam break Thursday night and defeated Cleveland State 70-54 at JPJ. For the Crimson, Sunday’s game was its first since Dec. 8.

“I think they’re better than they showed tonight,” Nolte said. “I think it’s hard to come out after a long break, especially in a place like JPJ.”

Bennett said: “You could just see it. They were sluggish, and they had one of their poorest games, and early on we were right defensively and making some shots, and that was obviously a bad recipe for Harvard.

“It’s hard to be in that spot. I’ve been in that spot, quite honestly, a few too many times, on the other side of it … But I don’t want to take away from how ready our guys were and how hungry they were to play and how good the crowd was. We don’t usually get a crowd like this heading into Christmas break, so that says a lot, and I was thankful for that.”

The crowd of 14,593 serenaded the `Hoos with several standing ovations, and most fans stuck around to cheer on the team’s reserves in the final minutes. The starters were able to sit back and marvel at the scene, and at the scoreboard.

“On the bench, there was just sort of shock that we were winning by that much against a very good team,” Brogdon said.

Their work done until after Christmas, Bennett’s players headed out of town for a few days. The Cavaliers don’t play again until Dec. 30, when Davidson (9-1) visits JPJ for a 6 p.m. game.

“We’re off to a great start,” Atkins said, “and going into this Christmas break, who wouldn’t want to be in this spot?”

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