By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At John Paul Jones Arena, double-digit victories have become the norm for the University of Virginia men’s basketball team. Virginia has won an arena-record 20 straight games at JPJ, only one of them by fewer than 10 points.
So dominant have the Cavaliers been at home that supporters can occasionally take such wins for granted. But that was not the case Tuesday night. A strong midweek turnout witnessed a breathtaking second-half performance from the nation’s second-ranked team, and fans were in full voice as they showed their appreciation.
“It was a live crowd,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said after his team’s 65-42 dismantling of ACC rival Clemson.
The Wahoos (16-0 overall, 4-0 ACC) took the lead for good on a jump hook by 6-8 junior Anthony Gill with 10:23 to play in the first half. Still, it was a six-point game at the break, and the gathering of 13,604 had had little to cheer apart from the back-to-back 3-pointers by junior swingman Justin Anderson late in the half.
That was small comfort to Clemson’s head coach.
“I thought we played really well against Virginia, and we’re still down six (at halftime],” Brad Brownell said. “That speaks to how good Virginia is.”
With three minutes left in the first half, it was a three-point game. But the second of Anderson’s three treys pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 22-17. Clemson answered with a basket, but then Anderson buried another 3-pointer to make it 25-19.
“We were laboring a little bit, and that certainly was big,” Bennett said of Anderson’s marksmanship. “It looked like it was going to be a possession-by-possession game. They were trying to wear us down, and we were trying to wear them down, and to get a little separation like that was helpful.”
The gap between the teams became a gulf in the second half. Virginia led by 30 points before Clemson rallied late. The Cavaliers’ play at both ends of the court impressed even Bennett, not one to lavish undue praise on his team.
In the final 20 minutes, UVa made 15 of 24 shots (62.5 percent) from the floor, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range. Clemson, meanwhile, made only 6 of 23 field-goal attempts (26.1 percent) in the second half.
“I thought we played at a high level. We really did,” Bennett said. “I always talk about percentages. I thought we were closer to not having letdowns on both ends of the floor in that half, and I thought that was important for us.”
The `Hoos scored the first nine points of the second half, a run from which the Tigers (9-7, 1-3) never recovered. Highlights of the spurt included an emphatic dunk by the 6-6 Anderson, who found himself uncovered on the left baseline after a defensive breakdown by Clemson.
“I thought [6-10, 255-pound Landry] Nnoko was going to step up and maybe try to block it, because he’s a great shotblocker,” Anderson said. “But I just took off, and it felt good to finally fly a little bit.”
Anderson made 5 of 10 shots from the floor and finished with 15 points. Even more efficient was redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half. Brogdon was 6 for 9 from the floor overall, including a perfect 3 for 3 from beyond the arc.
“I thought offensively he got us going with his drives,” Bennett said. “He drove hard. He’s such a physical driver, and I thought that loosened up their defense a little bit.”
Like his head coach, Brogdon is a perfectionist, and he noted that the Cavaliers were “a little out of sorts offensively” in the first half, but he too applauded the team’s overall effort.
“When we can make shots, we can get stops,” Brogdon said, “there’s not many teams in the country, I think, that can really compete at a high level for a full 40 minutes like we can when we bring it, and I thought the second half we played very well.”
Virginia finished with a season-low four turnovers.
As sound as the `Hoos are defensively, Brownell said, “I don’t think enough is made of their offense. Their offensive execution keeps [opponents from getting out in transition], which is the easiest way to score in college. They don’t take many bad shots and they don’t turn the ball over a lot. You don’t get a chance to run and score before they get set up.”
Gill, coming off a subpar outing at Notre Dame, battled foul trouble Tuesday night but still contributed eight points, four rebounds and one steal in 17 minutes.
“He really got us off to a good start,” Bennett said. “He was physical, and we needed that.”
Another post player, 6-8 senior Darion Atkins, scored six points and led Virginia with six rebounds. Off the bench, 7-0 junior Mike Tobey, whom Bennett considers a sixth starter, made 2 of 3 shots from the floor and blocked two shots.
Bennett came in expecting a close game, but the blowout allowed him to clear his bench. Seldom-used freshman BJ Stith hit a 3-pointer, to the crowd’s delight, and walk-ons Maleek Frazier, Rob Vozenilek, Caid Kirven and Jeff Jones all played.
“To be able to reward our Green Machine” — the nickname for Virginia’s scout team — “to get them going, was real good,” Bennett said, “because they work so hard in practice to get us ready, and they’re such selfless guys, and I love it when they can get out there.”
For the second straight game, 6-7 freshman Isaiah Wilkins sparked UVa off the bench. Not only did Wilkins play excellent defense, as he had against then-No. 13 Notre Dame on Saturday night, he made 2 of 3 shots from the floor, including the first 3-point attempt of his college career.
“I didn’t really know where I was,” Wilkins said, smiling. “I just knew the shot clock was low, and I was excited.”
The excitement was contagious at JPJ. The Cavaliers improved to 4-0 in the ACC for the first time since 1994-95, and their national ranking is their highest since March 1983, when Ralph Sampson, who was in the crowd Tuesday night, reigned over the college game.
“It used to be easy to not notice that we were climbing up the charts,” Anderson said. “But now it’s hard, because everywhere where you go, you hear about it.”
Even so, Anderson said, the players have not lost perspective. “We’re thankful for the situation,” he said, “and we just want to make sure we stay humble and keep focused on the prize in front of us, and that’s what’s ultimately going to help us win a championship, and that’s what it’s all about.”
At his postgame press conference, Bennett mentioned a text he recently received from a former player. Doug Browman told Bennett that he’s stayed in touch with other alumni, including Mustapha Farrakhan, Assane Sene, Thomas Rogers and Will Sherrill, and that they were proud of the Cavaliers’ success.
“He said, `I just love the guys, how they’re playing, but [also] that they’re remaining humble,’ ” Bennett told reporters. “And that brightened my day, that those guys remember our pillars, what matters to this program.”
UP NEXT: Another weekend, another road game for UVa, which plays Boston College (7-7, 0-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Virginia won at Miami on Jan. 3 in Coral Gables, Fla., and at Notre Dame last Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
To beat Clemson in such convincing fashion at JPJ was fun, Anderson said Tuesday night. “A lot of energy goes into getting back into the school rhythm, so for us to come out and take care of business was good for our team. Now we have to make sure that all we see is the next step, and that’s Boston College. They’re a tough team, and we need to make sure we keep our eyes on the prize.”
UVa has lost its past three games at BC’s Conte Forum. The `Hoos haven’t defeated the Eagles there since Feb. 17, 2008, when Bennett was still head coach at Washington State.
Boston College hosts crosstown rival Harvard at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Cavaliers routed the Crimson 76-27 at JPJ on Dec. 21.
Virginia is 7-0 away from JPJ this season. Asked Monday about his team’s formula for success on the road, Bennett said, “I think you have to be good defensively. You have to take care of the ball. You have to be pretty balanced offensively … I think those things combined are a solid recipe for giving yourself a chance to play in settings where you’re the underdog or you’re outnumbered with support.”