On the strength of an aggressive full-court press, Virginia defeated stubborn Towson State, 68-55, tonight in the opening round of the United Virginia Bank Tip-off tournament at University Hall.
The Cavaliers (2-0) advanced to Sunday's 3 p.m. championship game against Virginia Commonwealth, which defeated North Carolina-Wilmington, 76-75, tonight.
Surprisingly, Virginia was never able to establish the fast-break offense it used so effectively in its opening 92-77 victory over Houston at Capital Centre. But, trailing, 8-5, with 2:58 gone, Virginia unleashed a pressing defense that spurred a 14-1 run over the next 5 1/2 minutes and eventually led to 19 turnovers by the Tigers.
With a 10-point lead established, Virginia's victory was never a question, though Towson (1-1) did effectively control the tempo.
"We tried lots of combinations and different defenses," said Virginia Coach Terry Holland. "We had a couple of opportunities to open up the gap in the first half where we had four fast breaks in a row, but we could not convert. Towson played their cards well to keep us off the fast break."
Virginia countered well, however, with perimeter shooting and center Olden Polynice's inside play. Polynice led the Cavaliers with 14 points and six rebounds against a defense clearly collapsing on him.
"Olden is a little banged up right now and played a few more minutes tonight than I would have liked," Holland said. "He has tendinitis in both knees and has sore ribs."
But equally effective against the sagging Towson zone were Mel Kennedy, 12 points, and Darrick Simms, 10. Their outside accuracy led Virginia to a 50 percent shooting night and foiled Towson's strategy of double-teaming Polynice.
After Virginia used an 11-4 run to pull away to 50-33, the Tigers climbed back to 56-46 with four minutes to play. The Tigers came back on a combination of rugged inside play by Greg McClinton, who scored 12 points, and excellent outside shooting by Bill Leonard, who led all scorers with 19 points.
"One of our concerns was to control the tempo," said Towson State Coach Terry Truax. "Our defense is usually not that passive but we wanted them to shoot from the perimeter. We just didn't count on them making as many as they did."