CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia forward Akil Mitchell heard the warnings about Florida State from his coaches all week. The Seminoles were just two weeks removed from a sloppy loss to the Cavaliers in Tallahassee, and Virginia expected to face an improved team at John Paul Jones Arena on Saturday.
But as Mitchell sat on the bench during the waning moments, resting his legs ahead of Monday’s tilt with North Carolina, he did a double-take upon looking up at the scoreboard. For the fourth time in five ACC games, Virginia had rendered the second half mostly meaningless, racing out to an early lead and never relinquishing it in a 78-66 victory over Florida State.
“It’s weird for me,” Mitchell admitted. “It’s weird . . . kind of wanting to go back in and then looking up at the scoreboard and seeing you’re up by 20, 25. It’s a little strange, but I’ll take it all day.”
This latest win gave Virginia (13-5, 4-1) its first series sweep of the Seminoles in 13 seasons. More significantly, it represents the Cavaliers’ best start in ACC play since 1994-95, a campaign that ended in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
Senior Joe Harris, who played just two minutes in the teams’ first meeting because of a concussion, led the way with 18 points and hit 4 of 5 three-point attempts. The final one with 2 minutes 12 seconds left in the game — and two seconds remaining on the shot clock — helped stem the tide after Virginia’s lead had dwindled from 21 to 12 with less than four minutes to go.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon added 16 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals, and sophomore center Mike Tobey chipped in 13 points as Virginia shot 49.1 percent.
But the Seminoles wouldn’t go down without a fight — literally.
With 18 seconds remaining, Cavaliers sophomore Justin Anderson completed an emphatic alley-oop dunk with the shot clock winding down and was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim. Soon thereafter, Virginia point guard London Perrantes and Florida State’s Okaro White (15 points) got entangled in a scuffle near midcourt.
Perrantes and White were each given technical fouls and Cavaliers reserves Darion Atkins and Teven Jones were ejected for leaving the bench during the ensuing fray. The two teams then had to be separated during the postgame handshake line after more shoves were exchanged.
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said referee Jamie Luckie told him Atkins and Jones would not be suspended for the team’s game against North Carolina on Monday because neither received technical fouls. Bennett even joked his team is full of “lovers, not fighters.”
“That’s Florida State, man. It’s nothing new,” said Mitchell, who finished with nine points and four rebounds. “It’s the third or fourth time since I’ve been playing them. Not surprised by it at all. I’m sure they’re frustrated. We’ve beaten them twice now this season.”
The first half played out in much the same way as when Virginia ended a 10-game road losing streak at Florida State two weeks earlier, with the Cavaliers jumping out to an early lead thanks, in part, to the Seminoles’ mistakes. They committed 18 turnovers for the game and Virginia turned them into 26 points.
Following a three-pointer by Florida State’s Devon Bookert to start the action, the Cavaliers went on a 14-0 run and five players other than Harris contributed all the points. Virginia shot 55.2 percent before halftime and has led by at least 20 points at one juncture in all four of its ACC wins.
“The guys have been ready,” Bennett said of the fast starts. “There has been an edge to them and there has been a sense of urgency.”