CHARLOTTESVILLE — Since he arrived at Virginia, Austin Nichols has leaned on a handful of fellow redshirts and teammates to help keep his mind right while sitting out the mandatory transfer year between playing at Memphis and for the Cavaliers. But nothing Devon Hall or Darius Thompson said, no advice Malcolm Brogdon or Anthony Gill had handed down while they were here, helped the junior forward stay calm before playing his first game in a Virginia uniform.
Nichols, who was suspended for two exhibitions and the Cavaliers’ season opener Friday for a violation of team rules, had nothing to worry about. In a predictable result against St. Francis Brooklyn, Virginia won, 72-32, and Nichols led the way with 11 points off the bench in his debut.
“Sadly, yes, I was a little nervous at first and then I got that first bucket, assisted by Jarred [Reuter], so after that it was a little less nerve-wracking,” Nichols said. “. . . It’s just been a while. A whole year out can do a lot mentally. I tried to stay strong and positive mentally, and I think I did a good job of that, but getting a couple buckets was definitely good.”
Virginia (2-0) had a balanced scoring effort, with Nichols leading the way as one of six players with at least six points. The Cavaliers held St. Francis Brooklyn scoreless for just over 10 minutes during a stretch in the first half as the Terriers missed their last 15 field goal attempts before halftime.
Virginia opened the second half with a 35-11 lead and did not lead by fewer than 23 after that.
Senior London Perrantes, who scored eight points and had two impactful steals, came out of the game with more than seven minutes to play. Freshman Ty Jerome took over primary point guard duties in his absence, dishing two assists and scoring three points in a total of 10 minutes on the court. Reuter (nine points), junior Marial Shayok (eight points) and freshman Mamadi Diakite (eight points) had the other notable performances in front of an announced crowd of 14,471 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Virginia Coach Tony Bennett praised the balanced offense, which remains something of a concern for the Cavaliers after they lost almost 40 points per game when Brogdon, Gill and Mike Tobey graduated in the spring.
Nichols, for his part, pads Virginia’s inside game. On Tuesday he filled a similar role as the one Gill played last season, scoring all of his points on layups from underneath the basket as well as one confident dunk.
“He’s shown that in practice, his ability when he catches it to turn and face,” Bennett said of the 6-foot-9 Nichols. “And they were scrappy, they were fronting the post more, so we just took advantage of that in the second half more . . . the guards do look for him.”
Virginia’s front court — Nichols, Reuter, Diakite, Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt — accounted for 38 points Tuesday and provided a backstop for a Cavaliers team that didn’t score a single three-pointer for the first time since 2011. Virginia went 0 for 10 from beyond the arc.
Bennett expects that front-court depth to allow Virginia to “play harder for longer.”
“Each of those players brings something different,” Bennett said. “You saw the athleticism of Mamadi blocking some shots, he had [a] nice baseline move with the dunk. . . . I want them to be able to play real hard continuously. There’s no reason for a group with that kind of depth to not play hard, real hard, and be real active, and that’ll be important.”