By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After seeing his team give up 72 points to Davidson and 80 (in a double-overtime game) to ACC rival Miami, UVa men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett, not surprisingly, emphasized defense in practice Monday and Tuesday.
His players got the message.
“We knew how passionate he was, and we knew we had to be better,” junior swingman Justin Anderson said Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. “And whenever he’s that passionate, and whenever he’s that fired up about something like our defense, it never sits well with us as a team. So we wanted to make sure that we came out and we played as hard as we could today for him and for each other defensively, to show that we’re still a good defensive team.”
Unbeaten Virginia returned to form Wednesday night in its ACC home opener. In a 61-51 victory, third-ranked UVa held NC State to 37.7-percent shooting from the floor.
“I thought our defense took a step in the direction from the last two games,” Bennett said.
Anderson said: “We finally hung our hat on defense again.”
At the other end, the Cavaliers (14-0, 2-0) became too enamored with the 3-pointer, in Bennett’s opinion, and lacked patience, especially in the first half. Virginia came in averaging 13.8 attempts per game from beyond the arc. The Wahoos shot 15 in the first half alone Wednesday and 20 overall.
“I thought it was a little trigger-happy tonight,” Bennett said.
The Wolfpack (11-5, 2-1), which trailed 29-20 late in the opening half after a trey by Anderson (team-high 16 points) pulled to 32-31 by the break. Virginia had possession first in the second half, and the ball went down low to 6-8 redshirt junior Anthony Gill, who scored on a textbook post move.
“In the second half we made adjustments and got the ball inside more,” UVa guard Malcolm Brogdon said.
Brogdon, a 6-5 redshirt junior, finished with 14 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Most impressive, though, might have been his second-half defense on State senior Ralston Turner.
A 6-5 guard who began his college career at LSU, Turner was 5 for 5 from the floor in the first half, including 4 for 4 from beyond the arc. In the final 20 minutes, he was 0 for 3, all from long range.
“It’s motivating, for sure,” Brogdon said of Turner’s first-half sharpshooting. “It’s motivating when someone’s playing that well.”
In the second half, Brogdon said, he focused on contesting Turner’s shots. “He’s one of the best shooters in college basketball, and I think just having a presence on him, letting him know that your hands are there and they’re active, can make all the difference.”
Kyle Washington, a 6-9 sophomore, posted a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) for NC State. The strength of the Pack, though, is its backcourt, where Turner starts alongside 6-3 redshirt junior Trevor Lacey, a transfer from Alabama, and 6-2 sophomore Anthony “Cat” Barber, a graduate of Hampton High.
Lacey’s NBA-length 3-pointer as the shot clock expired gave State its final lead, 42-41, with 8:57 to play. But he finished with only nine points and missed 8 of 11 shots from the floor Wednesday night. Barber scored four of his six points in the final 25 seconds, well after the outcome had been decided.
Virginia point guard London Perrantes shadowed Lacey for most of the game, and Anderson hounded Barber, a former teammate in the Boo Williams AAU program.
“We told Justin to just be a roadblock,” Bennett said. “Spread out, keep him in front to the best of your abilities, because Cat’s really quick and he can do stuff. We thought that was a good matchup.”
Against Miami, Bennett tried several defenders on Angel Rodriguez, including Anderson. None was able to shut down the 5-11 guard, who led the Hurricanes with 25 points, three of which came on free throws that sent the game into overtime after a foul by Anderson.
“I didn’t do the best job,” Anderson told reporters Wednesday night. “I wanted to make sure that I could bounce back and try to show that I could guard the ball better than what I did at Miami. So that was my personal challenge.”
Perrantes played 35 minutes, Brogdon 34 and Anderson 33 against NC State. The only other perimeter player to get in the game for UVa, 6-5 freshman Marial Shayok, distinguished himself defensively too.
“Certainly against Davidson and against Miami, and then you look at the three perimeter players with NC State, you’re going against teams that have scorers at most positions,” Bennett said. “So that’s the challenge. To be able to bother most of [State’s] shots, contest the majority of them, that was real good, and we did a good job on the glass.”
Virginia, which outrebounded the Pack 39-30, went ahead to stay on a basket inside by 7-0 junior Mike Tobey, off one of Perrantes’ game-high five assists. That started a 10-0 run that ended with a Tobey dunk off an over-the-shoulder pass from Anderson in transition.
“If we scored, it’s the right play,” Bennett said, smiling. “If we didn’t, it’s not. It’s pretty simple.”
The Wolfpack initially appeared to have its defense set, but “then Justin got a two-on-one, and it was a real safe pass,” Bennett said. “It wasn’t one of his look-away, between-the-legs, behind-the-back passes. And that was an important basket.”
Anderson said: “I think it was more the finish than the pass. Mike did a great job having his hands ready and throwing it down as hard as he could … Both [State defenders] collapsed to me, so I just tried to throw a quick little zip pass over my shoulder, and good thing he was there to finish it strong.”
State freshman Caleb Martin’s 3-pointer slowed the Cavaliers’ surge, but only for an instant. Virginia answered with six straight points by Gill — the first four on stickbacks — to open a 57-45 lead with 1:00 remaining.
“We didn’t finish the game,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said.
Gill, coming off a subpar offensive performance against Miami, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds Wednesday night. Tobey came off the bench to contribute 11 points and five boards.
“Our offense wasn’t real pretty,” Bennett said. “It was a little out of sync, but we got some of those X-factor points” — from Tobey and Gill — “that are important for us.”
Tobey said: “I think it’s a good testament to our team’s toughness and ability to grind out a win. The first half of the season we didn’t really have many close games, so it’s good to have that kind of experience, because especially later in the season, not everyone’s going to be a blowout.”
UP NEXT: In a game ESPN2 will televise, Virginia (14-0, 2-0) plays ACC leader Notre Dame (15-1, 3-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind. The Fighting Irish are ranked No. 13 in the latest Associated Press poll.
Notre Dame, which won Monday night at North Carolina, is shooting a torrid 54.8 percent from the floor.
Virginia leads the series with Notre Dame 7-1. The Cavaliers swept the Irish last season, winning 68-53 in South Bend on Jan. 28 and 70-49 in Charlottesville on Feb. 22.
UVa’s next home game is Tuesday against Clemson (8-6, 0-2) at JPJ. About 650 tickets remain for the 8 p.m. game.
Tickets can be purchased online at VirginiaSports.com. To buy tickets over the phone, call (800) 542-8821 or (434) 924-8821. Tickets also can be purchased at the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium.