Robert Morris 55
Less than 48 hours before it hosts 10th-ranked Arizona, the Virginia men's basketball team got what it wanted from Friday's season opener against Robert Morris: an 88-55 win that featured major contributions from nearly every player in the rotation.
The Cavaliers jumped to a 25-3 lead by holding Robert Morris without a field goal for the first 10 minutes 30 seconds and led 49-18 at halftime before the Colonials (1-2) played the second half on more equal footing.
There was plenty of credit to go around. Forward Devin Smith led the charge in the first half with 12 of his 16 points. Center Elton Brown had 13 points and 12 rebounds and guard J.R. Reynolds scored 15. Forward Jason Clark had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Sean Singletary, Virginia's touted freshman, started at point guard and tailed off after a strong start, but he provided early glimpses of his talent.
Less than a minute in, he got the ball ahead to Smith on a fast break for his first assist. On the ensuing possession, he stole the ball at the top of the circle and drove in for a layup while being fouled and made the free throw. Singletary finished with six points, three rebounds and seven assists despite being limited to 25 minutes because of foul trouble. Coach Pete Gillen said Singletary will start ahead of sophomore T.J. Bannister for the indefinite future.
"For a first game, I think that's a pretty good step," Gillen said. "Now we've got a whole other world Sunday with Arizona."
Virginia held the Colonials to 23 percent shooting in the first half by forcing them to take long jumpers, and then converted those missed shots into transition opportunities that allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 64 percent for the half. The formula produced early leads of 14-0 and 25-3 before Robert Morris got on the board.
"Our defense was good because our guards started it," Gillen said. "They pressured the ball and contained it."
With 9:30 remaining in the half, the Colonials finally got a field goal after 14 misses when Mark Anderson heaved a three-pointer from the corner to beat the shot clock. Clark caught the ball at the rim and officials ruled it was goal interference. The visitors didn't get the ball to go through the basket until Tony Lee's transition basket with 7:15 left in the half.
Soon the lead was up to 43-13. There would be no substantive comeback, even as Virginia won the second half by only 39-37.
"We lost some concentration," Gillen said.
Two and a half minutes after halftime, the Cavaliers had a 40-point lead after baskets by Clark, Singletary, Brown and Smith.
"Whew. I'm glad it's over," Robert Morris Coach Mark Schmidt said, shaking his head. "Either our offense was horrible or their defense was terrific. Probably both."
The Cavaliers will face a much tougher opponent Sunday when the Arizona Wildcats interrupt their Preseason NIT schedule to visit Charlottesville for the first of a four-year series that will have them back here in 2006-07 for Virginia's first game at John Paul Jones Arena.
The Wildcats (2-0) are the only team in the nation with four players -- center Channing Frye and guards Salim Stoudamire, Mustafa Shakur and Hassan Adams -- among the 50 preseason candidates for the Naismith Award.
In the past three decades, the Cavaliers played only six regular season games against top-10 teams outside the ACC. They haven't hosted such a team since beating eighth-ranked Louisville in January 1983.
Singletary will have an especially intriguing matchup with Shakur, a 6-foot-3 sophomore and fellow Philadelphian who is one of the best young point guards in college basketball.
"People might think they're going to beat us, but it's not going to be a cupcake game," Brown said. "We've got a good team, and nobody's going to come in here and just walk over us."
Cavaliers Notes: Clark spent 15 minutes in the locker room after colliding with Anderson on an early rebound attempt, but he returned to the game with a bandage over his left eye. Clark has 98 career blocks, sixth among all-time Cavaliers. He has no chance to catch Ralph Sampson (462) for the top spot, but he needs 32 to catch Travis Watson for third and 50 to catch Chris Alexander for second.