Even despite Sene’s injury – he twisted his right ankle near the end of the first half and did not return – the outcome at Philips Arena had to have been encouraging for Bennett and his players. They won, they did so convincingly and they did so without a dominant performance from fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott.
The margin of victory, while impressive, is not all that important. Virginia could have won by 16 instead of 32, and the victory would have been just as significant because of the way it was produced. For once, it was Scott’s teammates freeing him up for open looks, rather than the other way around.
For once, it was Scott’s teammates shouldering a majority of the offensive load in the first half. For once, it didn’t seem like all was lost when Scott couldn’t find an early groove.
Particularly of late, the four Cavaliers on the court not named Scott largely had not carried their own weight offensively. That changed Thursday against a Georgia Tech squad that entered the night ranked No. 2 in the ACC in field goal percentage defense.
Scott recovered to finish with a game-high 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting. Equally as important, the rest of the Cavaliers combined to shoot 46.7 percent.
“There was balance,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “Guys were touching the paint off the dribble. Mike scored in different ways on the post. Sammy [Zeglinski] got it going. They were sharing the ball, and they really played together well in the second half offensively.”
1) Lane penetration. Virginia tallied 22 points in the paint in the first half Thursday, and most of those were the result of aggressive drives into the lane by the Cavaliers guards. By now, we’ve come to expect as much from Jontel Evans, who finished with six points, five assists and five rebounds. But Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Zeglinski took turns driving to the basket, as well.
“Coach really wants us to get into the paint and get paint touches, because he feels like the offense can really get into a rhythm,” Harris said. “Guys were getting into the paint, spot up the shooters, dump down to the bigs, and it kind of created for everybody else, even for yourself. If you’re driving into the lane, you’ve got to try to take it. But if you don’t, then you can create for everybody else.”
2) Rebounding. Virginia outrebounded Georgia Tech by 23. The last time the Cavaliers so thoroughly dominated on the boards was during a 90-61 win over Longwood on Dec. 17, 2008. That night, Virginia outrebounded Longwood by 26. Against Georgia Tech, Scott and Akil Mitchell led the way with seven rebounds each. Evans and Harris chipped in five rebounds apiece, as well. Virginia turned 12 offensive rebounds into 15 second-chance points.
3) Sammy Zeglinski. It wasn’t a breakthrough night for the fifth-year senior guard by any means, but Zeglinski turned in a solid performance nonetheless. One week after shooting 0 for 8 from the field in a three-point loss at Duke, Zeglinski shot 4 for 8 and finished with 10 points against Georgia Tech. His three-point shot still wasn’t clicking, but Zeglinski has proven throughout his career to be a streaky shooter. Eventually he’ll catch fire again, and that will only further diversify Virginia’s attack.
1) Sene’s twisted ankle. It’s hard to judge the potential impact of Sene’s injury because we don’t really know how serious it is. Here’s what we do know: With 23.7 seconds remaining in the first half Thursday, Sene went down after committing a foul. He had to be helped off the court and into the locker room by two teammates. He returned to the Virginia bench after the start of the second half on crutches. He did not play the rest of the night. Afterward, Bennett said he did not know the severity of Sene’s injury. Sene said he hopes to play Sunday against Virginia Tech, though given Sene’s general eagerness to play and to please, it would have been shocking to hear him say anything else.
The Cavaliers likely could afford to sit Sene on Sunday. That’s not to say he would not be an asset against the Hokies. Rather, it’s to say that, three games into the ACC season, this is not the time when you rush players back to action if they’re not fully healthy. It might make sense to give Sene a night off and let him rest until at least next Thursday’s game against Boston College. Mitchell and Darion Atkins could use a little extra playing time, and it would be beneficial to all to see how they each would respond to increased responsibilities.
But who knows? Maybe Sene will be fine by Sunday, and he’ll play with no issues.
2) Three-point shooting. Virginia made 5 of 16 three-pointers Thursday. That’s not awful, but for a team that already had been struggling from the perimeter, it’s not exactly encouraging, either. The Cavaliers now are shooting 34.5 percent from three-point range on the season and 26.7 percent from beyond the arc in their three ACC games. Virginia has talented three-point shooters. They just haven’t completely worked their way out of their apparent three-point shooting funk just yet.