In all likelihood, it wouldn’t have made much difference in the final outcome of Saturday’s game, but it’s worth noting that Longwood was not in an enviable position against Virginia. The Lancers played a home game Friday night (7 p.m. tip-off) and then had to travel from Farmville, Va. to Charlottesville for a 1 p.m. tip-off against the Cavaliers on Saturday.
Again, maybe the final score would have been roughly the same as it turned out to be – Virginia 86, Longwood 53 – anyway. Just saying it’s not as if the Cavaliers were facing a fresh opponent. Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said afterward the Lancers became noticeably fatigued as the game progressed.
Regardless, it was another win for the Cavaliers, who are now off to a 7-1 start. Virginia has held each of its first eight opponents to fewer than 60 points.
Fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott tallied 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes. He also shot 6 for 6 from the field. As a whole, the Cavaliers shot 51.8 percent from the field.
It’s difficult to tell how meaningful stats are in a contest in which one team is so clearly superior to the other. But if nothing else, Virginia avoided a letdown performance one game after posting an impressive victory over a ranked Michigan squad in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
1) Sammy Zeglinski. The fifth-year senior guard has been dealing with a lingering ankle injury since early November, and on Saturday, he seemed as though he’s getting close to full health. The stats were great and all (14 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals), but again, consider the opponent. What was more significant, at least in my opinion, was that his shot seems to be returning to form. Zeglinski certainly isn’t shy shooting the ball from long-range. Several times on Saturday he attempted three-pointers from well beyond the arc. Is that confidence in any way a reflection of his ankle feeling better? Maybe. Zeglinski made 4 of 9 three-pointers against Longwood. Zeglinski had said before the season began that he wanted to improve his ability to penetrate into the lane, but if he consistently can stretch out defenses with his long-range shooting, that will work just as well for Bennett and the Cavaliers.
2) Darion Atkins. With the way Saturday’s game played out, the contest was more about getting players like Atkins (a freshman forward) extended minutes to see what they can do. Atkins, in 13 minutes, demonstrated his promise and made it clear he’s still a long ways from fulfilling all of it. There were the three blocks and the alley-hoop dunk from freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon. And those were fun to watch. But there also were times when Atkins bobbled passes into the post and when he was caught out of position on defense. These are the sort of growing pains that first-year players go through, and that’s why it’s important for them to have opportunities – such as in games against vastly inferior foes – to work through them. He finished with eight points, five rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
3) Joe Harris. The sophomore guard shot 5 of 10 from the field and scored 13 points, and that was all well and good. But in a game in which the outcome was clear long before the final horn sounded, Harris did his part to keep things interesting. Just less than four minutes into the second half, Zeglinski saved a ball from going out of bounds in the corner near Virginia’s basket. He quickly flipped the ball to a wide open Harris, who proceeded to record the first dunk of his collegiate career. Roughly two minutes later, Harris dunked again. He tried to hide the giddy smile on his face each time, but it was clear he took particular joy in those two baskets. Apparently, some of his teammates had been ribbing him about not having dunked thus far in his time at Virginia. They won’t be able to do that anymore.
1) Fool’s gold. For obvious reasons, Scott has drawn – and likely will continue to draw – significant attention from opposing defenses. On Saturday, Bennett said, Longwood trapped Scott unlike any foe the Cavaliers previously had faced this season. The Lancers tried to seal off access to Scott in the post by having multiple defenders hover near him and clog passing lanes to him. On the instances when Scott did get the ball in the post, the Lancers double- and triple-teamed him immediately. That strategy left Scott’s teammates with fairly wide open looks, and as strange as it might sound, that took the Cavaliers a while to adjust to.
“We call it ‘fool’s gold,’” Bennett said. “You could get a wide open look from three right away, and I thought we were a little uncertain. Should we shoot it? Should we wait on it? I thought we, as the game wore on, offensively caught our stride.”
It didn’t take Virginia long. The Cavaliers shot 46.4 percent from the field in the first half and 57.1 percent from the field after the break. But they continued to struggle with their three-point shooting. Virginia made 6 of 19 shots (31.6 percent) from three-point range Saturday. If Scott, as expected, continues to draw such heavy attention in the post, the Cavaliers’ three-point shooting will be critical. Obviously, making a decent percentage of three-point shots will help Virginia score more points. But it also will draw opposing defenders away from Scott, which will free him up to get better looks inside.
2) Interior defense. Specifically, the Cavaliers struggled to defend Longwood’s 6-foot-6 “center” Antwan Carter, who finished with 17 points on 7 of 14 shooting Saturday. Senior center Assane Sene was matched up against Carter for most of the day, and that didn’t bode well for Sene. Granted, Sene is a 7-footer, so it wasn’t exactly the best match-up for him. Still, Carter routinely beat Sene with strong post moves that Virginia’s big man simply couldn’t stop. That Carter would be able to beat Sene by drifting out to the perimeter on occasion was expected. That Carter would fare so well against Sene in the post was not.
3) Free-throw shooting. This, of course, did not matter in the end, but Virginia shot 64.7 percent (22 of 34) from the charity stripe Saturday. The Cavaliers simply have to be better at shooting free throws than that. To be fair, Virginia’s starters did their part. Scott, Sene and Harris combined to make 15 of 17 (88.2 percent) free throws. It was Virginia’s reserves who were a bit off. Sophomore guard K.T. Harrell made 1 of 4 free throws. Sophomore forward Akil Mitchell made 1 of 3. Atkins shot 4 of 6 from the charity stripe, while redshirt freshman forward James Johnson missed both of the free throws he attempted. To round things out, Brogdon shot 1 for 2 from the free throw line.
Let’s put this another way: Virginia’s five starters – Scott, Sene, Harris, Zeglinski and Jontel Evans – are shooting 82.4 percent (103 for 125) from the free-throw line thus far this season. The rest of the Cavaliers are shooting 65.3 percent (49 for 75) from the charity stripe.