CHARLOTTESVILLE — The seeds of Virginia’s 65-45 rout of Virginia Tech on Saturday afternoon were first sown earlier this week, when Coach Tony Bennett decided to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson before practice.
“The hero is not fed on sweets,” he told the Cavaliers, even though many of them had never read a word written by the 19th-century poet. That, though, seemed to be a moot point once they dealt the slumping Hokies their most lopsided defeat in this series since 1991.
Virginia was rarely challenged in front of a sold-out crowd at John Paul Jones Arena, and after a rocky start to the season, the Cavaliers (15-5, 6-1) are off to their best start in ACC play since 1982-83, back when Ralph Sampson was roaming the lane at old University Hall.
But that squad didn’t win its first six conference games by double digits like this year’s group has, and Virginia now enters a week featuring two key road games at Notre Dame and No. 20 Pittsburgh armed with plenty of momentum. It’s exactly what Bennett hoped for when he channeled his inner English professor.
“We’re at Virginia. Our guys understand that,” Bennett cracked.
“My challenge to them, my plea to them is don’t give it back. . . . They’ve been on a pedestal, and they’ve seen the other side. Everybody thought how good they were gonna be to start the year, all the projections, and we weren’t tough enough, sound enough, playing the type of ball that gives us a chance.”
For now, Virginia refuses to revert back to that form.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon again led the charge, finishing with a career-high 18 points, six rebounds and three assists. He also hit a career-high four three-pointers. Senior Joe Harris chipped in 12 points, and the Cavaliers barely had to break a sweat following a 21-6 surge to close the first half.
“We were getting so many open shots that there were some we had to turn down,” Brogdon said.
But it was offense — or lack thereof — that proved to be the Hokies’ downfall, even though freshman Ben Emelogu returned after a two-game absence because of an ankle sprain.
Virginia Tech (8-11, 1-6) was held to a season-low 17 points before halftime and shot just 33.3 percent for the game. The Hokies, who have lost six in a row and eight of their past nine games, connected on only 3 of 18 shots from three-point range. It was the fewest points Virginia Tech has scored against Virginia since 1946 and the second-fewest points the Hokies have scored in an ACC game.
Point guard Devin Wilson had a team-high 12 points, but his first field goal came with eight minutes remaining. Virginia Tech had just two field goals overall during the last 14 minutes 35 seconds of the first half, going more than 10 minutes between baskets at one point.
Virginia “contributed to our offensive woes,” Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson said. “I thought going into the game they were playing some of the best basketball in the country. They continued that tonight.”
The only question after the game was just how much Bennett’s Emerson lecture really resonated with the Cavaliers. Forward Anthony Gill admitted he “had no clue what he was talking about.” Harris revealed Bennett actually stole the routine from his father, former Wisconsin Coach Dick Bennett, who previously quoted Emerson in front of the Cavaliers.
Senior Akil Mitchell joked that his roommate, an English major, “throws Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes at me all the time.” This latest one, though, hit the mark.
“We’re winning all these games, and everybody’s telling us that we’re great, but those are all sweets,” Mitchell explained. “We can’t sustain off of looking back at past victories. We have to keep moving forward.”