Justin Anderson and Virginia basketball block out Maryland noise, continue ACC hot streak
By Jason Reid,
The reception was rude and expected. Maryland fans heckled Virginia freshman guard Justin Anderson, who had verbally committed to the Terrapins, from opening warmups until the final buzzer on Sunday at Comcast Center.
“I tuned it all out,” Anderson said. That was obvious from his fast start. And it’s also becoming clear that Virginia is staying focused and putting together something good.
The Cavaliers did so many things well in Sunday’s 80-69 rout of Maryland, you almost wondered what to point to first. The Cavaliers outhustled the Terrapins, they shot great and won the rebound battle. It was generally a miserable experience for Maryland — only made worse by Anderson.
The All-Met selection from Montrose Christian scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half and finished with a game-high nine rebounds. Anderson expected a chilly reception in his first game at Comcast Center after he changed his mind and signed with Virginia, in large part, because former Terrapins coach Gary Williams retired.
Fans chanted, “Traitor.” They shouted, “We don’t need you!” Boos erupted whenever the ball found Anderson early in the game. The crowd’s energy level wasn’t as high in the second half. Virginia had a lot do with that.
Virginia’s six-point halftime lead increased to 13 with about 11 minutes to play. By that point, one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s hottest teams had silenced many. It was exactly the type of dominant performance the Cavaliers have been building toward lately.
Virginia (17-6, 7-3 ACC) has won six of its last seven. The only thing missing from the Cavaliers’ strong stretch was a solid road win (their recent blowout of awful Virginia Tech doesn’t qualify).
Maryland (17-7, 5-6) was downright horrible at times against Virginia — the Terrapins gave up way too many uncontested three-pointers — and isn’t among the ACC’s elite. Still, Coach Tony Bennett’s squad won in a hostile environment against an opponent that has shown signs of improvement recently. That’s a positive with March on the horizon and drawing closer every day.
Anderson’s development also should make Bennett smile. In five of the Cavaliers’ past six games, Anderson has scored in double figures. On Saturday, he caused major matchup headaches for Maryland.
Because of injuries and illness, Bennett started Anderson, listed at 6 feet 6, 226 pounds, at power forward. Anderson simply was too quick for Maryland’s big guys. He also enjoys doing the tough stuff inside, as evidenced by his top-notch rebounding work.
“He got us off to a good start,” Bennett said. “One of the reasons we rebounded well was that they didn’t always play their [regular post players]; they tried to match up with us offensively.
“When Justin had one of [Maryland’s power forwards or centers] on him, he really got free. He made some terrific plays. . . . I look at his rebounding line, those nine rebounds, we needed that.”
The Terrapins also were impressed with Anderson. And they should have been.
“He played an amazing game,” Maryland guard Nick Faust said. “He was hitting jump shots and attacking very strong.”
Anderson is a sharp kid. He didn’t get caught up in engaging Maryland’s fans. He knew what to expect. “They just did what they had to do,” he said of the jabs. Anderson concentrated on the big picture: Virginia is coming together.
“We’re definitely jelling,” he said. “Every time we step on the hardwood together, we’re getting better collectively as a unit. . . . We’re all starting to trust each other. It’s all starting to flow.”
The Cavaliers’ shooting definitely was on point. For the second straight game, they made more than 54 percent of their field goal attempts. Virginia was even better from three-point range: 57.9 percent — the highest by a Maryland opponent this season. The Cavaliers’ 11 three-pointers matched the second-highest total against the Terrapins.
Again, guard Joe Harris was Virginia’s most efficient player. The team’s leading scorer had a game-high 22 points while making 7 of 8 shots from the field and connecting on 3 of 4 from behind the three-point arc.
“Guys were moving really well to the ball,” Harris said. “We take a lot of pride in our shooting ability.”
Of course, it’s always easier to make uncontested shots. The Cavaliers often had good looks at the basket because the Terrapins couldn’t keep pace on defense.
“We seemed a little lethargic; a half-step slow from the beginning,” Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon said. “We never stopped competing. We tried hard. We just couldn’t guard them.”
The Terrapins also moved in slow motion in rebounding. The Cavaliers went after misses with more determination than their opponents. “I thought they were real physical,” Turgeon said. “They held their box-outs.”
Virginia has eight conference games remaining before the ACC tournament. That’s way too much time for Bennett to start getting comfortable. He knows there are many battles ahead to determine how he’ll look back on this season.
“You just try to play as good of ball as you can,” he said.
That’s what the Cavaliers are doing. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you block out the noise.
For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.