With 4 minutes 1 second remaining in Virginia’s 66-49 win Thursday night over Boston College, Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett called a timeout. The decision seemed odd at first, since a media timeout always comes at the first play stoppage with less than four minutes to play.
But through Bennett’s perspective, the choice made more sense. Sophomore guard Joe Harris, who was so sick Thursday morning the coaches weren’t sure he’d be able to play against the Eagles, was gassed. The other four Cavaliers looked like they could use a breather, as well.
And with pesky Boston College still in contention, there were a few points — swing the ball and manage it well on offense; get back in a hurry on defense — Bennett wanted to take another opportunity to make with his players. So he called the timeout, knowing full well another one was fast approaching.
“I just tried to re-emphasize the things that would be sound for us to finish out the game,” Bennett said.
Virginia closed the game on a 12-3 run. And for the first time since senior center Assane Sene went down with a fractured ankle, the Cavaliers seemed comfortable with the way they’ll have to play moving forward.
1) Pushing the pace. With Sene out, Virginia has three scholarship post players available, which means the Cavaliers’ guards need to make their presence felt on the boards in the coming weeks. If Thursday’s game was any indication, that could mean Virginia will be operating at a higher pace more consistently in the near future.
When Bennett spoke to his players at practice Tuesday, one of the points he made was that whenever the guards secure defensive rebounds, they are free to push the tempo. That is, so long as they finished the break with a sound decision.
The Cavaliers have not been known this season for their fast break proficiency, but they displayed their abilities in that regard against Boston College. Fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zelginski, junior guard Jontel Evans and freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon took turns leading Virginia in transition. They combined to record 11 of the Cavaliers’ 16 assists.
Even if such transition opportunities did not result in immediate points, Virginia seemed determined to speed Boston College up. It’s a ploy opposing teams typically try to execute against the Cavaliers, not the other way around. But it worked quite well Thursday.
2) Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins. The roles of these two forwards have increased significantly due to Sene’s absence from the lineup, and neither made much of an impact during Sunday’s 47-45 loss to Virginia Tech. But on Thursday, they each turned in solid performances. Mitchell, a sophomore, finished his second consecutive start with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes. Atkins, a freshman, tallied six points and three rebounds in 12 minutes. When the Cavaliers aren’t in their four-guard lineup, Mitchell and/or Atkins will play crucial roles, particularly on defense and on the boards. Their respective efforts against Boston College had to have been encouraging to Bennett.
3) Sammy Zeglinski. He entered the night having missed 15 of his last 17 three-point attempts, and neither of his first two three-point attempts Thursday fell through the net. But Zeglinski tallied four steals before halftime and played a considerable role in Virginia’s effective transition game all night. He did what Bennett had been preaching; he found ways to impact the game outside of his shooting. And then, with just more than three minutes to play in the second half, Zeglinski made a three-pointer from the wing. The home crowd went nuts. Fifty-five seconds later, he hit another three. The crowd rejoiced again. Zeglinski finished with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and four steals in 32 minutes. Whether he’s broken out of his shooting slump remains to be seen, but he’s providing Virginia productive minutes regardless.
1) The flu. Late last week, Zeglinski caught a flu bug that limited his ability to practice in the days leading up to the Virginia Tech game and dulled his effectiveness against the Hokies. This week, Harris was the one battling the flu (though Zeglinski swears he did not pass along his illness to Harris). Harris sat out practice Tuesday, was limited in practice Wednesday and woke up Thursday morning feeling so bad the coaches weren’t sure he’d be healthy enough to play. His fever spiked and then subsided enough for him to give it a go. And all things considered, he played pretty well. He tallied eight points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. The bad news for Virginia is that Harris doesn’t have much time to get well. The Cavaliers depart tomorrow afternoon for Raleigh in advance of Saturday night’s game at North Carolina State.
2) Defending the perimeter. Before the game, Virginia assistant Ritchie McKay noted that Boston College’s style of offense — one based on reads and backdoor cuts that is heavily dependent on three-point shooting — is difficult to defend because it is so unique. And for most of the night, the Eagles found themselves with fairly open looks from beyond the three-point arc. Boston College may have shot 35 percent (7 for 20) from three-point range, but it wasn’t due to a lack of opportunities. Virginia wanted to stay compact in order to help out on Boston College’s interior players and guard against the Eagles’ crafty passes. But the Cavaliers often were unable to recover quickly enough on outlet passes to effectively contend perimeter shots.