Dec. 31, 2014

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Where most teams fail, Davidson succeeded Tuesday night, repeatedly breaking down UVa’s rugged man-to-man defense and coming away with points.

“We couldn’t get stops,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett, whose unbeaten team trailed by 12 late in the first half, much to the dismay of the sellout crowd at John Paul Jones Arena.

In the end, though, the third-ranked Cavaliers made enough stops and hit enough shots to dispatch a Davidson team whose record through 10 games was its best in 26 seasons under one of the college game’s most respected coaches, Bob McKillop.

The final score was 83-72, and the victory gave the Wahoos their first 12-0 start since 1981-82. It did not come easily, even with big men Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins each contributing a double-double.

Davidson (9-2) twice led by 12 in the first half, first at 29-17 and the second at 34-22. Until Tuesday night, UVa had not trailed by double digits all season.

The Wildcats came in leading the nation in scoring (87.7 ppg), and their firepower was on full display at JPJ.

When the `Hoos fell behind early, junior swingman Justin Anderson said, the “first thing [to cross] my mind was, `Man, this is the toughest team that I think I’ve played since I’ve been in college.’ This may have been the toughest team that I think I’ve played in my life, and the reason why is, they move so hard and their offense is so hard [to defend], but on top of that they have guys who can really shoot the ball.”

Those guys include guards Brian Sullivan, Tyler Kalinoski and Jack Gibbs, who combined to score 55 points and shoot 11 for 19 from 3-point range Tuesday night.

Gibbs, a 5-11 sophomore, hit his first six shots from the floor, including three from beyond the arc.

“Davidson is a very talented team, and they can score the ball pretty much at will,” Gill said.

The `Hoos came into the game leading the nation in scoring defense (46.2 ppg) and had allowed more than 57 points only once, in a 76-65 win at Maryland. Even so, a team must commit itself anew defensively in each game, Bennett believes, and the Cavaliers did not do so immediately Tuesday night.

“We weren’t alert and ready,” Bennett said. “And we told our guys all week, this will be one of the hardest offenses you’ll have to guard, because they back it up with shooting and cutting. They kind of schooled us. They really did.”

At the other end, however, the Wildcats struggled to stop UVa. The Cavaliers made only five treys, though Anderson (4 for 6) punished Davidson from long range, but they controlled the paint. Led by Gill, a 6-8 redshirt junior, and Atkins, a 6-8 senior, Virginia turned 17 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points.

Gill, who attended high school in Charlotte, N.C., about 30 miles from the Davidson campus, finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds. His previous career highs: 19 points against SMU last season and 10 rebounds against La Salle last month.

“Every night’s going to be different for us, just depending on how the defense guards us and how they react to certain things that we do,” Gill said. “But it was definitely good just to see my offseason moves that I’ve been working on really pay off in this game.”

At dinner Monday night, UVa players had watched the television broadcast of Duke’s win over Toledo, a game in which the ACC’s top freshman, center Jahlil Okafor, scored 27 points.

When it appeared that Okafor might reach 30, Anderson recalled Tuesday night, “I was like, `If somebody’s going to get 30 points on our team, it’s going to be A.G.’ So when I saw he was at 25 with like three minutes to go [against Davidson], I said, `Come on, A.G., you’re not tired.’ I wanted him to get there so bad, but he was a beast tonight.”

Gill made 11 of 16 shots from the floor, most from around the basket.

“The scouting report said that he’s very crafty, has terrific touch, he shoots it like a feather inside, and he has an extra effort on the glass,” McKillop said. “All of which he lived up to.”

On a night when Virginia’s starting center, 7-0 junior Mike Tobey, was 1 for 6 from the floor, Atkins came off the bench to score 13 points and grab 10 rebounds — the first double-double of his college career. Six of his boards came at the offensive end.

Moreover, Bennett said, Atkins’ “activity defensively was important.”

The Wildcats, who joined the Atlantic 10 this year, made nine of their first 13 shots Tuesday night, and for a while it seemed Virginia might never catch them. But the Cavaliers scored the final six points of the first half, cutting Davidson’s lead to 36-32 and giving themselves a measure of momentum as they headed to the locker room.

“We had to stop the bleeding,” Bennett said. “We got some buckets and a couple of OK stops. And then in the second half, we weren’t great defensively, but we were better. Because the shots, even the ones they made, or the ones they took, were more contested, and they had to work a little harder to get them.”

With 15:58 to play in the opening half, Davidson had gone ahead 10-9 on a floater by Gibbs. The Cavaliers didn’t regain the lead until the 17:01 mark of the second half, when Gill’s two free throws made it 40-38.

The Wildcats refused to wilt, even as the decibel levels inside JPJ rose. The second of Sullivan’s four second-half 3-pointers put Davidson up 52-51, and the teams were tied at 55-55 with 10 minutes remaining.

“It’s hard when you have to go against good offense with great players that can shoot the ball like that,” Anderson said.

Anderson, who brought the crowd to its feet with a thunderous first-half dunk over Davidson’s Andrew McAuliffe, can shoot, too. He came into the game having made 24 of 40 attempts from beyond the arc this season — a remarkable 60 percent — and he played a leading role in a sequence that allowed Virginia to finally pull away Tuesday night.

After the Wildcats switched to a 2-3 zone, Anderson buried a trey from the left wing to make it 58-55. Gibbs missed a 3-pointer at the other end, and then Anderson struck again from long range, this time from the right corner off a pass from sophomore point guard London Perrantes (game-high seven assists).

After another Davidson miss, Atkins scored inside, and McKillop, his team suddenly down eight, called a timeout with 8:14 left.

“Those were significant,” Bennett said of Anderson’s back-to-back 3-pointers. “And then our defense fed off the crowd, the energy, and got some tough stops.”

Anderson said he remembered looking up at the scoreboard clock and thinking that at least the Cavaliers had a cushion. But then he had another thought: Davidson was capable of getting back into the game.

“You gotta be careful,” said Anderson, who finished with 14 points. “You can’t get too comfortable, and you gotta finish the game, and I think we did a good job doing that.”

Led by redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was 8 for 8, Virginia hit 15 of 16 free throws in the second half. Brogdon (16 points) made only 2 of 10 shots from the floor, but he was perfect (12 for 12) from the line.

“Virginia is skilled, talented, very smart, and incredibly well-coached, with great discipline,” McKillop said. “I thought we did a terrific job of matching them for quite a bit of the game. We let them get away from us at the beginning of the second half and at the end of the first half. But that happened not because of a lack of toughness or effort on our guys’ part. We fought for 40 minutes, and I’m incredibly proud of them.”

The victory was the Cavaliers’ 18th consecutive at JPJ and capped a calendar year in which they won 33 of 36 games overall.

Asked about his team’s 12-0 start, Bennett said, “I’m so thankful we’re in this spot, but it’s just [about the] next game.”

Virginia, which swept the ACC regular-season and tournament titles in 2013-14, opens conference play Saturday night against Miami (10-3) in Coral Gables, Fla.

“We got a grind coming up, and we’re just looking forward to it,” Bennett said.

Anderson said: “New year, new season, ACC play, and we just have to come ready. What we did in the non-conference schedule, it means a lot, but at the same time it’s gone, it’s away, and now we’ve got to have a refocused mindset, and we have to come out and try to execute against Miami.”

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