Virginia defeats Longwood, 85-72

Coach Tony Bennett won his Virginia debut, but realizes his team has
Coach Tony Bennett won his Virginia debut, but realizes his team has "a lot of work to do. It's going to be a long journey that way." (Andrew Shurtleff/associated Press)
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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 14, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The pregame video at John Paul Jones Arena advertised a new beginning for the Virginia men's basketball program, with first-year coach Tony Bennett as the impetus for the excitement. It helped that the opening night of the Bennett era came against Longwood, prolonging the honeymoon period at least a few more days.

The first public glimpse of Bennett's team appeared as he had warned -- a group with much work to do. For all the excitement about Bennett, his team did not appear to be one that followed his traditional blueprint during an 85-72 win over the Lancers. The defense suffered from lapses, turnovers were too frequent and the win could be attributed to a fast-paced offense. Despite Bennett's first victory as Virginia's coach, he was not left encouraged after the game.

"To give up that many points, that was discouraging," Bennett said. "The guys did finish, but there's no secret that we got a lot of work to do. It's going to be a long journey that way."

Without center Assane Sene (suspension) and Jamil Tucker (leave of absence), Bennett turned to a four-guard starting lineup and kept that group on the court throughout the game.

The smaller lineup meant the team could play at a quicker pace than previous Bennett-coached teams. Only once in Bennett's three seasons at Washington State did one of his teams score more than the 85 points Virginia scored Friday night. The Cavaliers shot 60 percent.

Each starter finished with double figures, and the lone big man -- forward Mike Scott -- had the fewest of any of the five with 12 points. Sylven Landesberg's 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting paced the Cavaliers. Mustapha Farrakhan tied a career high with 17 points.

The Cavaliers put the game out of reach in the final eight minutes of the first half, when Virginia went on a 27-9 run to turn a four-point lead into a 22-point halftime advantage. The spurt started when freshman guard Jontel Evans entered the game.

Bennett told Evans that the freshman needed to provide a spark. Evans pushed the ball and opened the floor for teammates such as fellow point guard Sammy Zeglinski, who hit three of his team-high four three-pointers during the first-half run.

Bennett's "offense is not really slow-it-down like everyone thinks," Landesberg said. "He gives us a lot of freedom on offense, and just is real strict on the defensive way. He wants it done his way, and we didn't do it in the second half."

Virginia was outscored 45-36 in the second half. Bennett, who is usually mild-mannered, was visibly disturbed at a defense that kept giving Longwood open shots. The offensive execution was not much better; 11 of Virginia's 16 turnovers came after halftime.

The late-game lapses were also an issue in Virginia's preseason scrimmages. The Cavaliers built up big leads in the two scrimmages against Marquette and St. John's before hitting a dry spell.

"It's something we're familiar with," guard Jeff Jones said. "We got to be tough, not get comfortable with the lead we have, and keep hammering it onto teams. It's maturity. Something we can learn from, but it's all just a mind-set with the team."

Bennett has continued to preach patience, and his debut was evidence why he played down expectations in the preseason. When he entered the locker room after the game, Bennett asked the team what went wrong in the second half. To a man, Bennett said, each acknowledged the team must improve its effort.

"I know, and you know, we're not just going to be able to outscore people and race up and down," Bennett said. "I also know your defense has to hold you in there. And when you start getting into exchanging baskets with other teams, it becomes real difficult with the competition we'll face."

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