CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon grabbed a defensive rebound with just more than seven minutes remaining Thursday night against Boston College and immediately rushed the ball up the John Paul Jones Arena floor. The Cavaliers had numbers, three-on-two, and put up a shot eight seconds after the possession had begun.
The sequence didn’t lead to a basket, but it did lead to two free throws. And for a team struggling to produce offense in any form of late, that was good enough. No. 19 Virginia pulled away late to register a 66-49 win, and the manner in which it constructed its latest victory was significant.
Fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott led the way with a game-high 18 points, which was not a surprise. But as a team, Virginia (16-3, 3-2 ACC) shot 50.9 percent from the field, a vast improvement from recent performances. The Cavaliers’ offensive efficiency was born out of a concentrated effort to push the pace at every opportunity, something they typically haven’t done this season.
“We have to find other ways to score, and transition is a great way,” said Brogdon, who finished with six points, seven rebounds and three assists. “I think [junior guard] Jontel [Evans] is one of the best in the country in transition. That’s what we have to use.”
For the past week, the list of Virginia’s healthy, available, scholarship-carrying players has been brief, and that won’t change much any time soon. Coach Tony Bennett has just three such players at his disposal that stand taller than 6 feet 6 after 7-foot senior center Assane Sene fractured his ankle Jan. 19. Sene is expected to be out until early March.
In their first game this season without Sene – a 47-45 loss Sunday to Virginia Tech – Bennett felt the Cavaliers were stagnant off of defensive rebounds, which is no longer something they can afford to do.
When the team reconvened for practice Tuesday, the coach implored Virginia’s guards to be more aggressive after defensive rebounds, so long as they finished their runs downcourt with a quality shot or pass.
“A couple of the decisions [Thursday] were not solid, but I think you have to be willing to do that,” Bennett said. “We didn’t do that against Virginia Tech for whatever reason. As long as they’re good decisions, I think that’s sound for us.”
Evans tallied a game-high six assists to just two turnovers, and three Virginia guards – Brogdon, sophomore guard Joe Harris and fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski – combined for 15 rebounds. Harris logged 26 minutes despite being under the weather.
“I like the idea of if the guards get the rebound, push,” Evans said. “We’re fast enough to get down the court, and we make good decisions with the ball, so that kind of helped us tonight.”
The Cavaliers also turned 15 Boston College turnovers into 22 points, many of which came in transition. And when it came time to shoot, Virginia focused more on driving into the lane than on reviving its perimeter shooting touch.
“We’re still trying to mesh,” Bennett said. “I thought we were better with our chemistry today and had a better feel for playing the way we’re going to have to play for the majority of the year now.”