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March 1, 2015

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — The sellout crowd at John Paul Jones Arena roared when London Perrantes, back in the lineup, was introduced as one of Virginia’s starters Saturday afternoon. JPJ continued to rock for most of the next two hours, the volume peaking when Darion Atkins walked to the bench and embraced head coach Tony Bennett with 40 seconds left in the Cavaliers’ home finale.

More games remain in 2014-15 for these Wahoos — many more, they hope — but this one was special. In the final appearance at JPJ for Atkins and fellow seniors Maleek Frazier and Rob Vozenilek, they went out in style. UVa defeated Virginia Tech 69-57 to clinch at least a share of the ACC regular-season title.

Atkins will miss playing at JPJ, where Virginia went 15-1 this season, “but I’m glad I went out that way,” he said. “I can’t complain. That was a great last game for me.”

It was memorable for his team, too. The `Hoos (27-1, 15-1), who before the season were picked to finish fourth in the ACC, have matched the best 28-game start in program history.

“Did I expect it? Probably not,” Bennett said. “Am I very thankful? Absolutely. And to be a part of it at an institution like this is what I had hoped for.”

In the locker room after the game, Bennett said, he read to his players a quote another coach had emailed him. It was by John Wooden, who said, “It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no cares who gets the credit.”

The Cavaliers have embraced that philosophy, and Bennett praised their “ability to play for each other, to be unselfish, to do the dirty work.”

Perrantes said: “That’s just the character of our team. Even off the court we’re like that. If anybody needs some help, we’re all there to help. The chemistry we have off the court helps on the court as well, so being able to have that mentality, it’s huge for us, and I think that helps us win.”

In a Senior Day ceremony before the game, Atkins, Frazier and Vozenilek, along with student-managers Marcus Conrad, Reid Moseley and Aaron Paul, were honored Saturday.

The 6-8, 241-pound Atkins’ contribution to the Cavaliers’ seventh straight victory over the Hokies was immense. He scored 16 points — his most ever in an ACC game — pulled down six rebounds, tied his career high with three assists, blocked two shots and came up with two steals.

Atkins had two thunderous dunks in the final 70 seconds, slams that whipped the crowd, and his teammates, into a frenzy.

“With all the work that he’s put into this program, to get it where it is now, for his last game [at JPJ], to go out like that is huge,” Perrantes said. “I told him we wanted to get this game for him and for all the other seniors, and we did, and he went out with a bang.”

Of his increased offensive production, Atkins said, “That’s just being confident, working day in and day out on my game, and demanding the ball. I told those guys to feed me in the second half and they did that, and I contributed really well.”

Early in his college career, he didn’t always play as much as he would have liked, but Atkins persevered, even when his role was limited. His reward has come this season. He’s averaging 7.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and a team-high 1.1 blocks. He also leads the Cavaliers with 22 steals.

“I’m proud of him,” Bennett said. “His story is a real good story.”

Virginia, playing without All-ACC candidate Justin Anderson for the sixth consecutive game Saturday, once again found a way to win without the 6-6 junior. It helped that Perrantes, who missed UVa’s game at Wake Forest on Wednesday night with a broken nose and mild concussion, was cleared to play against Virginia Tech (10-19, 2-14).

The 6-2 sophomore, a two-year starter at point guard, came out in a protective mask, but that didn’t keep Perrantes from breaking his nose again when he dived for a loose ball in the final minute of the first half.

“It wasn’t too bad with the mask,” Perrantes said, “but after that happened, I was just like, `All right, there’s no point in wearing it.’ “

He had yet to have X-rays when he spoke to reporters, but Perrantes was confident his self-diagnosis was correct. “If you want to feel my nose, you can probably feel that it’s broken,” he said with a tired smile.

Perrantes didn’t return to practice until Friday, and some rust was apparent early in the game. He had three points and one assist (and one turnover) in the first half. After intermission, though, he shed the mask and finished with 11 points, six assists, two rebounds, one block and only one turnover.

He made all four of his field-goal attempts, including three from beyond the 3-point arc.

“It was tough of him to respond like that and just step up there and play,” Bennett said, “and we needed everything he had, for sure.”

Atkins and Perrantes were not the Cavaliers’ only standouts. Redshirt junior Malcolm Brogdon, a 6-5 guard, scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, both team highs, and classmate Anthony Gill, a 6-8 power forward, totaled 16 points and five rebounds.

The Hokies start no one taller than 6-7, and Atkins and Gill dominated inside, making 13 for 19 shots between them. During one stretch in the first half, Gill scored seven straight points to tie the game at 11-11.

“We gave them too many layups,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams. “I thought Gill was phenomenal. He’s a really hard matchup for us.”

Gill has scored at least 10 points in seven of UVa’s past eight games.

“I think just being more aggressive is what I’m trying to do lately, especially since we have people out,” he said. “Just trying to be as aggressive as I can and help the team.”

More than 13 minutes elapsed Saturday before Brogdon scored, but the Hokies rarely stopped him thereafter. With 10:44 left, Brogdon hit a pullup jumper that pushed Virginia’s lead to 50-38. Virginia Tech answered with eight straight points, but the Cavaliers never panicked.

With about seven minutes remaining, Brogdon caught an inbounds pass from Perrantes and buried a 3-pointer that started a 12-0 run and effectively settled the outcome. Brogdon had air-balled his previous attempt from beyond the arc, but he didn’t hesitate on this one.

“I just said, `Shoot it with confidence,’ ” Brogdon recalled. “A shooter’s gotta let go, gotta have a quick memory, and that’s what I tried to do.”

When these teams met in Blacksburg on Jan. 25, UVa had to rally for a 50-47 win. The Hokies shot 45.2 percent from the floor that night and repeatedly burned UVa’s Pack-Line defense. They encountered considerably more resistance at JPJ.

Redshirt junior guard Adam Smith hit 4 of 7 attempts from long range and finished with 19 points, but overall the Hokies shot only 38.3 percent from the floor. Freshman guard Justin Bibbs, who came in averaging 12.5 points, scored three Saturday and missed 9 of 10 field-goal attempts.

“Every time we had an open shot someone was there to contest it,” Tech guard Ahmed Hill said.

That’s a refrain sounded often by UVa opponents this season. With Anderson expected back soon, the `Hoos are understandably upbeat as the postseason approaches.

“We’re playing good basketball,” Brogdon said. “I think we’re clicking at the right time. We’re not peaking, we’re not plateauing. We’re improving every day, even if it’s in incremental amounts. We’re improving.”

UP NEXT: Two regular-season games remain for the Cavaliers, both on the road. Virginia plays at Syracuse (18-11, 9-7) on Monday night and then at No. 17 Louisville (23-6, 11-5) on Saturday night.

A victory in either game — or a loss by Duke (26-3, 13-3) — would give the `Hoos their second straight outright ACC regular-season title.

“That’s going to be a crazy finish,” Atkins said. “Great teams, great coaches, great programs. Top teams. Elite teams. I think that will help us going into postseason, playing teams like that.”

The ‘Hoos and the Orange haven’t met since March 1, 2014. Before a sellout crowd, No. 12 Virginia hammered No. 4 Syracuse 75-56 at JPJ that evening to clinch the outright ACC regular-season title for the first time since 1981.

Syracuse lost Saturday night at No. 4 Duke. Louisville, which is nearing the end of its first season in the ACC, routed Florida State earlier in the day.

In the revamped ACC, Louisville and UVa face each other twice each regular season. In their Feb. 7 game at JPJ, the `Hoos edged the Cards 52-47.

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