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Nov. 17, 2015

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The frenzied George Washington students who rushed the court at the final buzzer had long since departed the Smith Center when Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon emerged from the visitors’ locker room Monday night, a grim look on his face.

A sellout crowd of 5,025 had been in full voice from start to finish, and their fans’ support clearly fueled the Colonials. To Brogdon, however, the raucous environment was a minor factor in sixth-ranked Virginia’s 73-68 loss to GW.

“I think we have a lot of experience,” Brogdon said. “I don’t think it was the atmosphere that got to us. I think it was our defense. What we pride ourselves on the most, and what’s really our foundation, really let us down tonight.”

Not since Dec. 30, 2013, when they lost 87-52 at Tennessee, had the Cavaliers allowed so many points in regulation. Before Monday night, that night in Knoxville was also the last time Virginia had dropped a regular-season non-conference game.

“No one likes to lose,” senior center Mike Tobey said, “and the way we did it was the problem.”

In avenging their 2014-15 loss at John Paul Jones Arena, the Colonials (2-0) shot 45.1 percent from the floor Monday night and repeatedly got to the line, where they made 23 of 28 shots (82.1 percent).

The Cavaliers (1-1), a step slow for most of the game, were whistled for 24 fouls. In the first half, starters Anthony Gill and Darius Thompson played only seven and eight minutes, respectively, after each picked up two fouls.

“Sometimes we just needed to guard the ball and keep our guy in front, and we had breakdowns that were costly,” head coach Tony Bennett said.

During one stretch late in the second half, GW scored on five straight possessions. Rarely in recent years have the Cavaliers struggled to get stops in such situations.

“We had a tough time sustaining our defense,” Virginia forward Evan Nolte said. “That’s really all there was to it. We had too many breakdowns, and we weren’t there. We weren’t in gaps where we should have been. And they kept making plays and getting layup after layup.”

Nolte’s 3-pointer with 8:24 left put the Wahoos ahead 55-54, but their lead was short-lived. At the other end, GW forward Patrioco Garino (18 points) drew a foul on Nolte while scoring on a layup. Garino then made the free throw to complete the three-point play, and the Colonials were ahead to stay.

Only a superlative performance by the 6-5 Brogdon, a returning All-American who finished with a career-high 28 points, kept the `Hoos from getting blown out. “I liked how he responded in the second half when we needed him to,” Bennett said.

So did the hundreds of orange-clad fans in the capacity crowd. Overall, though, the Virginia supporters had little to cheer Monday night.

“We were out of sync and did not play particularly well,” said Bennett, who was quick to credit the Colonials and their head coach, Mike Lonergan, as well as their fans.

“I was very impressed with the atmosphere, and we knew it would be [outstanding],” Bennett said. “Very well-coached team. Very physical … They out-played us. They deserved it, and I hope we’ll learn well from this experience.”

The Cavaliers are two games into a rugged non-conference schedule, the most ambitious in Bennett’s seven seasons in Charlottesville. After traveling to South Carolina this week for three games in the Charleston Classic, which runs through Sunday night, Virginia will face such teams as Ohio State, West Virginia, Villanova and Cal before opening ACC play Jan. 2 against Notre Dame at JPJ.

“We’re going to be in so many tough situations,” said Bennett, and so his players must learn from the loss to GW.

“You can’t say, `Oh, we were just off, it wasn’t our game,’ ” Bennett said. “No, it wasn’t that. We got out-played, we got out-executed, and we have to keep finding ourselves. That’s the challenge. Who are we? How do we need to play? How disciplined do we need to be? And sometimes you forget how hard it is, and these settings remind you awful quick.

“We always talk about how that margin of error is thin, and that line is fine.”

Three players scored in double figures for Virginia, all seniors: Brogdon, the 6-8 Gill (11 points) and the 7-foot Tobey (10 points). They were a combined 17 for 34 from the floor. The rest of the team: 8 for 28.

“Some of the finishing was a problem,” Bennett said. “I thought we got some good looks at times, even some around the rim, and struggled to finish. That certainly was a concern.”

More troubling to Bennett, though, were his team’s defensive lapses. Too often, the Cavaliers would commit a foul, give up an offensive rebound, fail to properly communicate, or surrender a transition basket.

“We lacked the discipline required,” Bennett said, “and that was the message after: First comes discipline, and then comes freedom after that. You absolutely have to play the game free, but you better have a level of discipline and execution in the areas that matter, and I didn’t think we had that.”

Virginia’s trademark post trap, usually so effective, caused the Colonials few problems Monday night.

“We were very rusty,” Bennett said. “We had some trouble with that, and that’s going to be important for us. Because again, we don’t have a natural interior defender” — such as Akil Mitchell or Darion Atkins — “who can just clean it up [so] you don’t have to worry about it. We’re going to have to be good with our trap, we’re going to have to be active, and that cost us today, it certainly did, and they made us pay.”

For all of the Cavaliers’ woes, this was a close, tense affair most of the way. A 10-0 run put GW ahead 64-55 with 5:24 left, but even then UVA battled back.

With about 1:15 to play, junior point guard London Perrantes launched an open 3-pointer from the top of the key. Had his shot dropped through, GW’s lead would have been trimmed to a single point.

Alas for Virginia, like so many of its field-goal attempts Monday night, this one missed its mark, and the Colonials were able to secure a memorable victory. The `Hoos were left with much to ponder on their bus ride home to Charlottesville.

“I think this is a learning experience,” said Brogdon, who scored 11 of UVA’s final 13 points. “I think we had uncharacteristic breakdowns in our Pack [Line defense] that we usually don’t have … We just gotta be tougher. That’s really it.”

Gill, who opened the scoring Monday night with an emphatic dunk, said the loss “hurts right now, of course, but I think in the long run it’ll really help us.”

More tests await the Cavaliers, and “you need games like this,” Gill said, “where we’re in a tough environment and the [opponent] is really good, like George Washington. They’re a good team. Hats off to them. They played really well.”

At JPJ last season, Virginia erased a four-point halftime deficit and defeated GW 59-42. When the Cavaliers went to the locker room down only three points after an error-filled first 20 minutes Monday night, they believed they were well-positioned for another comeback win.

“I thought we would come out with more assertiveness and more tenacity on the defensive end,” Brogdon said. “But we didn’t, and we paid for it.”

Virginia’s first game at the Charleston Classic will be late Thursday against Bradley (1-1). ESPN2 will televise the game, which is scheduled to start at 9:30 p.m.

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