By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Life in the NBA has taken away none of Justin Anderson’s natural exuberance.
From his courtside seat at John Paul Jones Arena, the Dallas Mavericks rookie kept up a running commentary as players passed in front of him Monday night, encouraging his former University of Virginia teammates and, on occasion, firing good-natured barbs at his friends on NC State.
“It doesn’t matter what we run,” Anderson told State center BeeJay Anya as UVA took control in the second half, “you’re not going to stop it.”
Anya could only smile at Anderson’s remark. On this night, at least, the Wolfpack had no answers for the Cavaliers. Seventh-ranked Virginia outscored NC State by 20 points in the second half and won 73-53 before an appreciative crowd at JPJ.
“I did not like how we started, but I liked how we finished,” head coach Tony Bennett said after UVA’s 18th straight victory at JPJ, a streak that dates to last season.
The Wolfpack (13-13, 3-10) made its first six shots from the floor. Even more troubling for the Wahoos, only one of those shots was by junior point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber, the ACC’s leading scorer.
“That was disturbing,” Bennett said, “to see how easy they scored.”
State shot 52.2 percent from the floor in the first half, and the teams were tied 31-31 at intermission. By game’s end, however, the Pack’s field-goal percentage had dropped to 40.4, and Virginia’s had risen to 53.7.
“That was a tough half for us, the second half,” State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “But again, I think [the Cavaliers] were the story. It wasn’t us. They were the story. They played terrific.”
For teams facing UVA’s Pack-Line defense, fifth-year senior Malcolm Brogdon said, “it’s a war of attrition, as Coach Bennett calls it. It just wears on you, and you’re not going to be able to make the same shots at the end of the game that you’re making at the beginning.”
In a battle of ACC-player-of-the-year candidates, Brogdon bothered Barber from the start Monday night. Barber, a graduate of Hampton High School, came in averaging 24.1 points and had made more free throws (189) than any other player in the ACC had even attempted.
Against Virginia (21-5, 10-4), Barber scored only 14 points. He was 4 for 11 from the floor, with five turnovers, and attempted six free throws.
The Cavaliers “did a great job of cutting down some of his opportunities to penetrate,” Gottfried said.
Two days earlier, against Duke at Cameron Indoor Hall, the 6-5 Brogdon had frustrated two of the ACC’s top players: 6-5 Grayson Allen and 6-9 Brandon Ingram. The 6-2 Barber is significantly quicker than either Allen or Ingram, but Brogdon slowed him, too.
“It’s definitely challenging, and the way you play defense on each of them changes every night, depending on who you’re guarding and what their skill set is,” Brogdon said. “But your mindset doesn’t change, in terms of you have to figure out a way to stop them and to frustrate them that night.”
Virginia point guard London Perrantes said his backcourt mate embraces such challenges, and Brogdon agreed.
“I love playing against great players,” he said. “[Barber is] a great player, a great scorer. I don’t know if I was extra juiced up. I’m juiced up every night, but I definitely looked forward to playing him.”
Brogdon led UVA with 18 points Saturday in its 63-62 loss to Duke, but he made only 1 of 6 shots from beyond the arc at Cameron. He was 4 for 7 from long range Monday night and 9 for 13 overall from the floor. Brogdon finished with 22 points, the 13th time this season he’s scored at least 20.
“He was complete,” Bennett said. “I love complete players. Offensively, he was complete, and then he really spread out [on defense].”
As he had in Durham, Bennett noted Monday night that pro teams should find much to like about Brogdon’s versatility.
“For the people who make decisions at the next level, the ones that want guys that win, that do the things that show up in the win column, he’s gold in that way,” said Bennett, a former NBA point guard.
“I know what he brings to the table. When Malcolm is right, when he has a way about him defensively, when he’s efficient offensively, letting the game come but then being aggressive, he’s just a heck of a player. And he’s showing that. And I think [Brogdon’s ability to guard multiple positions] is really valuable … I’m glad to see him playing at such a high level.”
In practice Sunday, the Cavaliers’ coaches stressed the importance of keeping Barber from piling up free-throw attempts.
“That’s the way that he gets I think almost half of his points every night,” Brogdon said, “and that’s the way he keeps his team in the game, by getting to the line. It was really important, just not to let him get going downhill and not to let him get a quick step on you. Try to keep him in front and [make him] shoot contested shots.”
On the rare occasions when Barber slipped past Brogdon, other Cavaliers were there to help. Brogdon’s teammates offered ample assistance at the other end, too.
Perrantes, who leads the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage, hit 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc against State and scored 19 points. During one stretch in the second half, the 6-2 junior knocked down three consecutive treys.
“I thought Perrantes and Brogdon, those two guys were the difference-makers for them,” Gottfried said.
Against Duke, Perrantes did not attempt a 3-pointer in a game in which Virginia made only 2 of 11 shots from long range.
“Duke really put some pressure and heat on him and us, and they kind of force you to make some plays off the dribble,” Bennett said.
Perrantes might have passed up a couple of 3-point opportunities in Durham, Bennett added, but “there aren’t many who have a feel for the game and understand the game and what’s needed better than London.”
And so Bennett did not find it necessary to tell Perrantes to shoot more.
“He knows what we need,” Bennett said. “I trust him. I really do, and if I need to say something, I will. Obviously in the second half, he was terrific with his stroke.”
Perrantes said: “I was just taking what the defense gave me tonight. I had some open 3s, and I was just playing more aggressive.”
Fifth-year senior Anthony Gill, Virginia’s second-leading scorer, had only six points Monday night, but 6-7 sophomore Isaiah Wilkins had another breakout game. Wilkins, whose previous career high was nine rebounds, grabbed 13 of UVA’s 27 boards against State.
“He didn’t really leave too many for anybody else,” Bennett said, smiling.
“He’s long. He’s not real tall, but he’s very long, and he just had a heck of a rebounding game.”
Wilkins said: “I’m just trying to be all over the place.”
UVA starts Devon Hall alongside Brogdon and Perrantes in the backcourt, and the 6-5 redshirt sophomore bounced back from a disappointing showing in Durham. Hall totaled six points, three assists and three steals against the Pack. Also effective Monday night was senior center Mike Tobey, who hit 3 of 4 shots and scored seven points in 17 minutes off the bench.
Having such a quick turnaround after the last-second loss to Duke proved beneficial for the Cavaliers, who couldn’t “sit around and think about that too much,” Perrantes said.
“We’ve got to get ready for the next game. That was probably the best thing that could come after the Duke game, to be able to play again today. We’ve got that bad taste out of our mouth, and we’re just ready to move on.”
The `Hoos don’t play again until Feb. 22, when they meet No. 11 Miami (20-4, 9-3) in Coral Gables, Fla. Anderson will be back in Dallas that night, but he made his presence known during his visit to Charlottesville. When he wasn’t posing for selfies with fans Monday night at JPJ, he was signing autographs.
“It’s good to have him back,” Wilkins said.
Anderson attended practice Sunday, and he was the Cavaliers’ loudest cheerleader Monday night, leaping to his feet every time his former team made a big play.
“Obviously he brings hype,” Perrantes said. “He had that the three years that he played here, so to be able to bring that extra fire for us is always a huge help. We love that guy, and we were happy that he was here.”