ATLANTA — As the ball rotated on the opposite side of the lane midway through the second half Thursday night at Philips Arena, Virginia forward Mike Scott crept farther away from his Georgia Tech defender. He never would have gotten away with such an attempt at stealth in the first half, but, for the first time in a while, his teammates were the opponents’ primary focus.
One quick pass later, Scott found himself with the ball and several feet of separation from his defender. He shot the baseline jumper he rarely misses, especially when uncontested, and it fell through the net to push No. 15 Virginia’s lead to 20.
The dilemma the Cavaliers created for Georgia Tech in the second half of what became a 70-38 win — Virginia’s largest margin of victory in a road ACC contest since 1983 — is exactly the one Coach Tony Bennett hopes to present to conference foes the rest of the season: Worry about containing Scott, or concentrate on shutting down the other four Cavaliers on the court?
That predicament only exists if both parts of the equation work. And for the first time in ACC play this season, Virginia (15-2, 2-1 ACC) reaped its benefits. Hampered by aggressive double teams and generally feeling uncomfortable with the ball, Scott shot 2 of 7 from the field in the first half. But that mattered little because, before the break, his teammates made 52 percent of their attempts.
“Obviously, we love running the offense through Mike. When he has shots, it’s great, and he’s also great at creating shots for everybody else, too,” said sophomore guard Joe Harris, who finished with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. “But everybody else on the team, when the opportunity presents itself and [opponents] aren’t going to honor them and respect them, they have to hurt you too.”
Virginia’s guards did so by regularly penetrating into the lane and finishing with either a buck or an assist. Such a strategy is expected from junior guard Jontel Evans, who finished with six points and five assists. But Harris and fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski got into the act as well.
The Cavaliers led by 18 at halftime, though they entered the locker room on a somber note. With 23 seconds remaining in the first half, senior center Assane Sene twisted his right ankle and had to be helped off the court. He returned to the bench on crutches in the second half, and Bennett said afterward he did not know the severity of Sene’s injury.
When asked whether he would be healthy enough to play Sunday when Virginia hosts Virginia Tech, Sene said: “I’m going to do my best.”
Even without Sene, who logged just 13 minutes, Virginia out-rebounded Georgia Tech, 45-22, and held the Yellow Jackets (8-10, 1-3) to 29.2 percent shooting.
With Harris and Zeglinski (10 points) distracting Georgia Tech’s defense, Scott was given more room to operate in the second half. He finished with a game-high 18 points, but, for once, that was not the most notable aspect of Virginia’s victory.
“If we come out and play like that with all guys clicking on the offensive end, it’s going to be hard to guard us,” Evans said. “We won’t have to lean on one guy to get us points. If we play like that on the offensive end, we’re going to be hard to beat.”