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March 17, 2016

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The first men’s basketball game between Virginia and Butler will not, it’s probably safe to say, be as one-sided as the eighth meeting between Virginia and Hampton.

In a Midwest Region first-round game, the top-seeded Cavaliers thrashed No. 16 seed Hampton 81-45 at PNC Arena to extend their record in the series to 8-0.

Other than a frightening sequence in the final seconds of the first half, when head coach Tony Bennett collapsed on the sideline from dehydration, there was little for UVA (27-7) not to like Thursday afternoon. The margin of victory was the Wahoos’ largest in an NCAA tournament game.

After being examined by Virginia’s medical staff, Bennett returned to coach in the second half, sitting on a stool by the bench instead of crouching on the sideline, as he typically would have.

“I think I’ve just been a little under the weather the last couple of days,” Bennett said after the game, “and I think I was a bit dehydrated, and when you’re squatting down and get up quick, I just grayed out or blacked out a little bit.”

There were no tense moments for Bennett to suffer through in the final 20 minutes. Virginia led by at least 19 points throughout the second half.

This game bore no resemblance to the Cavaliers’ NCAA tourney openers in 2014 and ’15. In those contests, No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina and No. 15 seed Belmont, respectively, scared the `Hoos before succumbing late.

“That wasn’t going through our minds in warmups,” senior forward Evan Nolte said Thursday, “but coming into this game, we knew that the past two years, that has happened, and we wanted to come out strong and make a statement and just gain some confidence going into Saturday.”

The victory moved the Cavaliers into the NCAA tournament’s round of 32 for the third consecutive year. Virginia will meet No. 9 seed Butler (22-10) at 7:10 p.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs eliminated No. 8 seed Texas Tech 71-61 in the first game at PNC Arena on Thursday.

“From what I know about them, which is very little, it’s going to be a grind-it-out game, and we need to come to play and focus on every possession,” Nolte said. “I think it’s a matter of getting our rest tonight and being able to turn the page.”

Bennett had the luxury of resting his starters for much of the second half Thursday. All-American guard Malcolm Brogdon watched the final 10:58 from the bench and played only 28 minutes. No Cavalier played more than junior point guard London Perrantes’ 30 minutes.

“I think it can help the team as a whole a lot,” said Brogdon, the ACC player of the year. “I think rest is the most important thing coming into the tournament and then playing these games almost back to back. I think it’s going to help us tremendously to get up by a lot, win by a lot and be able to rest our guys.”

Four players scored in double figures for Virginia, led by 6-8 fifth-year senior Anthony Gill (19 points), who also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds and handed out a career-best four assists, all in only 27 minutes.

“I didn’t even know I had four assists,” Gill said, smiling. “That’s credit to my teammates [for] knocking down shots when I give them the ball.”

Virginia knocked down shot after shot Thursday, hitting 55.2 percent of its field-goal attempts. The Cavaliers were especially dangerous from long range.

On an afternoon when they made a dozen 3-pointers, a program record in the NCAA tourney, Perrantes was 4 for 8 from beyond the arc. Brogdon and reserve guards Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson hit two treys apiece.

In all, the Cavaliers’ bench contributed 33 points. Shayok finished with 10 points, 7-0 senior Mike Tobey with eight, Nolte with six, Thompson with six, and 6-11 redshirt freshman Jack Salt with three.

“We need our guys that come off the bench to play with confidence going forward,” Brogdon, who scored 11 points to move into a tie for ninth on Virginia’s all-time list.

“I think most of the time the teams that have the best bench production, whether that’s getting stops or producing on the offensive end, I think they end up winning a lot more games than the teams that don’t.”

For Thompson, this marked the first time since Virginia’s Dec. 19 win over Villanova that he’s made more than one 3-pointer in a game.

“Seeing one go in, I’ve just got more confidence shooting the next one,” Thompson said. “Getting up a lot of shots in practice and seeing them go in is just helping my confidence out a lot.”

Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Cavaliers’ defense was superb Thursday too. Hampton shot only 30.4 percent from the floor.

“When our defense is executing the way we should,” Gill said, “it really makes it a lot easier for our offense.”

Hampton head coach Edward “Buck” Joyner Jr. said the Cavaliers “made it tough on us to make shots. That’s a credit to their defense and what they do.”

The Pirates led early, at 10-7, but Virginia seized control with an 11-0 run that included baskets by Brogdon, Gill, Thompson and Tobey.

“I think there were a lot of nerves coming into this game,” Brogdon said, “being the first game of the tournament. So we just had to get adjusted on both ends and start establishing ourselves inside.”

This was a satisfying victory on many levels for the `Hoos, who felt they had something to prove to the Pirates. After CBS announced the NCAA tournament field Sunday night, Hampton guard Reginald Johnson Jr. had called UVA “not overly athletic” and “the most beatable” of the No. 1 seeds, a comment that made its way to Charlottesville.

“We were aware of it,” Virginia forward Isaiah Wilkins said Thursday.

The Pirates (21-11), champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, were considerably more complimentary after the game.

“Like I told my assistants at halftime, the tough part is [the Cavaliers] wear on you,” Joyner said. “I think [early in the game] we were fine. It’s over a course of 20-40 minutes that you have to deal with that caliber of talent and size.”

With the outcome settled, the `Hoos enjoyed the final minutes Thursday, especially the free throw Salt banked in with 1:49 to play, to the delight of his teammates on the bench.

“It’s good to be able to get that [first victory] under your belt,” Wilkins said. “We have a feeling of confidence right now, which will help us a lot Saturday, but we know we have to be ready to play, because [Butler is] a really talented team.”

One of the enduring memories of Virginia’s first-round win will be the sight of Gill with his head bowed while his right hand rested on the left shoulder of Bennett, around whom athletic trainer Ethan Saliba and team physician Dr. John MacKnight were huddled.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Gill recalled, sitting next to Bennett at the postgame press conference, “and I was praying just to make sure he was OK.”

Gill smiled. “It worked. I healed him.”

Bennett said: “Being a little under the weather, I’m sure that’s all it was. I don’t think it’s anything too serious. [It’s a] little more embarrassing than anything. It is what it is. I’m sure I’ll get teased about it, but we’ll move on.”

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