By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On a night when redshirt junior Malcolm Brogdon left the court to a much-deserved standing ovation with 22 seconds left at John Paul Jones Arena, there were others worthy of praise for their roles in the UVa men’s basketball team’s latest victory.
Darion Atkins blocked a season-high four shots, including two in the final six minutes that helped second-ranked Virginia hold off Pittsburgh’s comeback bid Monday night. The 6-8 senior also contributed nine points and six rebounds in the Cavaliers’ 61-49 win.
Marial Shayok, scoreless in his previous six games, finished with six points, four rebounds and an assist in 21 minutes off the bench. The 6-5 freshman was 1 for 1 from beyond the arc, his first 3-pointer in nine games.
London Perrantes struck a winning balance at point guard, scoring 10 points, handing out six assists, and coming up with two steals. The 6-2 sophomore also hit two of the team’s five 3-pointers.
Anthony Gill, with 12 points, scored in double figures for the fourth time in five games, and the 6-8 redshirt junior tied Atkins for the team lead with six rebounds.
And then there the Wahoos’ fans. With snow falling outside JPJ and roads deteriorating, a boisterous crowd braved the wintry conditions, and it was rewarded with a victory that moved the ‘Hoos (12-1 in conference play) closer to a second straight ACC regular-season title.
At 24-1 overall, Virginia has matched the best 25-game start in program history.
“Being a Wisconsin boy, this isn’t a huge deal as far as the snow and the driving,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said, but “I know for Charlottesville people and for Virginia this is a big deal with the weather.
“And so those who came out, they were loud, they were active. They had fight, just like I challenged our team to.”
Among the players Bennett challenged were his reserves, including freshmen Shayok and Isaiah Wilkins.
“Just get out there and fight, battle, and be all about that and nothing else,” Bennett said he told them. “It’s kind of time to grow up in a sense, [for] the freshmen.”
With 6-6 swingman Justin Anderson (13.4 ppg) recovering from surgery to repair a fractured finger, the `Hoos need increased production from his teammates, including Shayok, a Canadian whose performance in non-conference play was a revelation.
More recently, however, Shayok had been mired in a prolonged slump that shook his confidence.
“Everyone has been telling me to stay confident and stay ready,” Shayok said Monday night, but that proved difficult for him.
“This is probably like the weirdest stretch of basketball I’ve had, where I wasn’t playing well. Usually it comes so easy. But that’s just learning. I feel like if I go through another stretch like this, I’ll be better prepared to just move on, regardless of if I’m scoring or not.”
Midway through the first half, with the shot clock winding down, the right-handed Shayok drive into the lane and put up a left-handed runner. It banked off the glass for his first field goal since Jan. 22.
“Finally,” Shayok said. “That’s the thought I had. It was a good relief, a good feeling.”
His second field goal capped a 7-0 run that all but locked up the victory for UVa, which has won six straight over Pitt. After a steal by Brogdon, the ball came to Perrantes, who spotted Shayok on the left wing. Shayok didn’t hesitate, and his 3-pointer pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 44-33 with 4:11 left.
The trey was Shayok’s first since Virginia’s Jan. 17 win at Boston College.
“As soon as he hit the 3-pointer tonight,” Atkins said, “he looked over at Justin, and Justin said, `Are you back?’ Marial said, `Yeah I’m back.’ I’m glad he hit that shot, and hopefully he can keep staying aggressive on the offensive end.”
“When his confidence is up, he’s good for us,” Perrantes said of Shayok. “He’s so lanky and he plays good defense, and he gave us a good lift today.”
Shayok said: “I could have done a better job with my attitude, staying positive, but the older guys and coaches stuck with me. I felt like they believed in me, and I feel like it paid off today.”
He continued working on his outside shot, Shayok said, “even though it wasn’t falling in games. After practice, before practice, I continued to work on it. Everyone on this team believed in me. Tonight it finally fell through, and it’s a great feeling.”
The Cavaliers took the floor little more than 48 hours after holding on for a one-point win over Wake Forest at JPJ. The Panthers (17-10, 6-7), meanwhile, were coming off an emphatic victory over No. 12 North Carolina in Pittsburgh.
Against the Tar Heels, Pitt rang up 89 points and had six players in double figures. Against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, the Panthers managed all of 15 first-half points Monday night.
“Our guys were charged up, we were bothering shots, and we just made them earn everything,” said Bennett, whose team led by 10 at the break. “We talk about contested shots. There wasn’t a lot there [for Pitt], and [UVa defenders] were really inspired.”
Led by sophomore forward Jamel Artis, who finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, both game highs, the Panthers had more success offensively in the second half. But the Cavaliers frustrated 6-9, 235-pound sophomore Michael Young, who came in as Pitt’s leading scorer and rebounder, from start to finish Monday night.
Young fouled out with 22 seconds left, departing with a forgettable stat line that included no points, four rebounds, three turnovers and five fouls.
After a stretch in which Virginia went more than five minutes without scoring, Pitt closed to 36-33 with 7:54 remaining. But the `Hoos steadied themselves and made sure there would be no late-game drama in this one.
“They keep coming,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said, “and they keep making you make the right play time and time again. Their size at all positions is a real attribute for them.”
Young’s final foul sent Atkins to the line for two shots. Before the free throws, however, Bennett subbed Wilkins in for Brogdon, who walked off amid thunderous applause for his latest tour de force.
“I told him how proud I was of him,” Bennett said. “He’s just a complete player. He’s steady, he’s tough, he’s guarding a lot of times the [opponent’s] best perimeter player, and he’s so even-keeled. What a great ambassador for this university and for our program, obviously on the floor in how he plays, but in all ways.”
Brogdon, a 6-5 guard, led the Cavaliers with 18 points on a night when he became the 45th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career. He’s at 1,003 and counting.
“It means a lot,” Brogdon said. “I remember Joe [Harris] and Mike Scott getting their 1,000th point, and it’s a moment I have to say thank you to all of the people along the way. It is not just me. It’s my family, my mom, my brothers, my coaches and my teammates who have all helped me along the way. This is a moment of gratitude for me.”
Brogdon went 6 for 6 from the line and 2 for 2 from 3-point range. His most memorable shot Monday night, though, was neither a trey nor a free throw. With three minutes to play, Brogdon drove in from the right wing and, to the surprise of virtually everyone in the arena, threw down a contested one-handed dunk.
“I just saw the baseline open up,” Brogdon said. “I was thinking that if the big doesn’t step over, I’m going to try to dunk it. They might block it, but I’m going to go to the rim hard.”
As he ran back on defense, Brogdon shot a look at Anderson, one of the nation’s premier dunkers, on the UVa bench.
“He’s always talking about my athleticism, so I like the little confrontation after,” Brogdon said, smiling.
UP NEXT: The Cavaliers don’t play again until Sunday, when Florida State visits JPJ for a 6:30 p.m. game. That will conclude a three-game homestand for Virginia, which is 13-1 at JPJ this season.
FSU (14-12, 6-7), which won Saturday at Georgia Tech, hosts Boston College (9-14, 1-10) at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
The `Hoos went 3-0 against the Seminoles in 2013-14. UVa swept the teams’ regular-season series and then defeated FSU 64-51 in the ACC tournament.