By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
RALEIGH, N.C. — Many of Justin Anderson’s most memorable plays this season have come late in UVa’s road games, among them the three free throws, followed by a 3-pointer, that forced a second overtime in an 89-80 win at Miami, as well as the alley-oop dunk and two second-half treys in a 50-47 victory at Virginia Tech.
At NC State’s PNC Arena, however, Anderson wasn’t an option for the second-ranked Cavaliers in the final minutes. The 6-6 junior watched helplessly from the bench from start to finish Wednesday night, the fractured finger on his shooting hand heavily wrapped, as the tension mounted in Virginia’s first game without him.
But his teammates came through when it mattered most, as Anderson, the Wahoos’ second-leading scorer, has done so often this season.
Junior center Mike Tobey’s dunk, off a slick pass from redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, put second-ranked Virginia up 45-42 with 1:18 to play. Then, after the Wolfpack pulled to 47-45 on a stepback 3-pointer by guard Trevor Lacey, Tobey calmly hit two free throws with seven seconds remaining.
In Virginia’s only loss, against Duke at John Paul Jones Arena, Tobey missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:06 to play, “so I wanted to redeem myself,” he said Wednesday night.
Brogdon sparkled late, too, against an NC State team desperately trying to bolster its postseason rÃ©sumÃ© with a victory. He went 4 for 4 from the line in the final minute, and his last two free throws, with 1.4 seconds left, secured a hard-earned 51-47 win for the `Hoos.
“I think that’s one of the great things about our team, that we have depth and we have versatility,” said Brogdon, who finished with 15 points and three assists, both game highs. “We have guys that can step in and replace other guys. Maybe not fully replace what somebody brought, but step in and play their role and do what they can for the team.”
The victory was the ninth in a row on the road for ACC leader UVa (22-1, 10-1), the nation’s longest such streak. The win did not come easily. NC State (14-11, 5-7) shot only 33.3 percent from the floor, but Virginia, at 37.3 percent, wasn’t much better.
“Not a great offensive game,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “Teams were missing a lot of shots. We couldn’t really get a rhythm … But enough plays were made, and guys for us stepped up.”
The Cavaliers’ heroes included Tobey and 6-8 redshirt junior Anthony Gill, who combined for 20 points and 20 rebounds on a night when 6-8 center Darion Atkins (two points, six rebounds) was uncharacteristically quiet.
“Darion, he’s given us so many lifts, but tonight it was those two stepping up [inside],” Bennett said.
Tobey and Gill combined for 16 points in the second half, as the Cavaliers’ emphasis on getting the ball inside paid handsome dividends. Nine of their boards came at the offensive end.
In games like this where you’re struggling to get buckets, the ability to get second-chance points — 13 of them for us — that’s [huge],” Bennett said. “I think their effort was great, and they’re both naturally good offensive rebounders.”
Evan Nolte, a 6-8 junior, started in Anderson’s place. He didn’t come close to matching Anderson’s usual offensive output, but Nolte made one of UVa’s two treys, assisted Gill on a crucial three-point play with 7:00 remaining, had no turnovers, and played rugged defense on State sharpshooter Ralston Turner.
Turner, who sank four 3-pointers against Virginia at JPJ last month, finished 0 for 6 from beyond the arc Wednesday and 2 for 9 overall.
Nolte “did a nice job of beating screens and using his length to at least make [Turner] shoot contested shots,” Bennett said.
Anderson’s absence also meant a larger role for reserve guard Devon Hall. A 6-5 redshirt freshman whom Bennett did not use in UVa’s previous two games, wins over North Carolina and Louisville, Hall played 12 minutes Wednesday, his longest appearance since Dec. 21.
He contributed four points and a critical assist: a pass to Tobey, whose three-point play with 4:44 left pushed Virginia’s lead to 42-37.
“I told Devon when Justin went down that this is his time,” sophomore point guard London Perrantes said. “It’s time to step up and make the most of what [opportunities he] got, and he did. He stepped up big for us tonight, and I’m happy for him.”
Hall said: “I went from not playing much to being able to try to step up and take a bigger role, but it could be any guy any day. It could be Evan, me or Marial [Shayok]. It’s just a matter of stepping into a role and trying to replace what Justin did.
“We’re still trying to figure out what’s best and what will work best without him. It’s up to us to keep battling.”
Lacey led the Wolfpack with 14 points. Anthony “Cat” Barber, a sophomore from Hampton High, added 11 but missed 9 of 14 shots from the floor. Still, Bennett wasn’t pleased to see the ease with which Barber, who had totaled 51 points in his previous two games, drove to the basket Wednesday night.
“He is so quick, Anthony is, and that’s where Justin’s length and [size are so valuable],” Bennett told reporters. “I said to Devon and to London after, `I hold you guys in such high esteem, and we work so hard on our [defensive] slides. You guys are better than that. Credit to Anthony, but also you guys can be better than that.’ ”
On offense, the Cavaliers figure to need several games — at least — to become comfortable without Anderson, the ACC’s leader in 3-point field-goal percentage. He had surgery Sunday and isn’t expected back this month.
“Offensively, we’re playing with different guys, so we just gotta get our fluidity together and get used to playing with each other,” Perrantes said. “I know Justin was a big part of our team minutes-wise, scoring-wise, doing everything for us. I think this game is going to help us. Devon stepped up big for us, Evan stepped up big, but it’s really just getting out there and playing with different guys.”
Gill said: “It was a little bit different, just having one of our best players out offensively, so we had to kind of find our way, try to find something different.”
The crowd of 19,500 included former UVa head coach Terry Holland and one of his former assistants in Charlottesville, Dave Odom. They saw Virginia extend its regular-season winning streak over NC State to eight games with another of the gritty performances for which Bennett’s teams have become known.
“We knew it was going to go down to the end,” Perrantes said. “[The Wolfpack] had the crowd behind them, and we know what the crowd can do for the home team. We just had to fight to the end, and that’s what we always do.”
Bennett said: “It was a grinder … You gotta do what you gotta do, and we just stayed in there long enough. There wasn’t a rhythm and we couldn’t get going, but we stayed in there long enough and made a couple of big plays.
“We have to improve, we have to be better than that, but we’ll certainly take it and are thankful for it.”
HOMESTAND: The Cavaliers’ next three games, all against ACC opponents, are at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia hosts Wake Forest (12-13, 4-8) on Saturday (2:30 p.m.), Pittsburgh (16-9, 5-6) on Monday (7 p.m.), and Florida State (13-12, 5-7) on Feb. 22 (6:30 p.m.). All three games are sold out.
UVa’s home finale is Feb. 28 against Virginia Tech, and that game, too, is a sellout.
In the Cavaliers’ most recent game at JPJ, where their record this season is 11-1, they defeated then-No. 9 Louisville 52-47 last Saturday night.
“I used to think Kansas had one of the best home-court advantages I’d ever seen, and I have to put Virginia, in terms of arena and fans culture, in the same league with Kansas,” Louisville’s Rick Pitino said Monday on the ACC coaches’ teleconference. “And the reason I say that is … usually fans get bored by defense.”
Not at JPJ. The atmosphere there “reminds me of the old Knick days when the Garden would be chanting `De-fense,’ ” Pitino said. Virginia fans “all stand up with 10 seconds to go [on the shot clock] cheering their team on defensively, and I have not seen that in my 40 years of college basketball.”