CHARLOTTESVILLE — There are times when good shots won’t do, and Virginia fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott found himself in such a situation with eight minutes remaining in the Cavaliers’ game on Tuesday against George Mason.
A transition opportunity had led to an open look for Scott, but he resisted the urge to fire away and instead made a pass that enabled Virginia to set up a half-court play.
Moments later, sophomore guard Joe Harris scored on a long jump shot and was fouled in the process. The sequence pushed the Cavaliers’ lead to 14, helped squash a George Mason run and set the tone for what became a 68-48 Virginia victory.
“That was a great shot,” Scott said of Harris’s jumper. “The shot I had probably would have been a good shot, but it was quick into the offense and into the shot clock.”
Scott demonstrated exactly the type of measured restraint Virginia Coach Tony Bennett wants to see from his squad. With Scott — a preseason first team all-ACC selection — drawing heavy attention in the post, other Cavaliers shooters frequently have found and will continue to find themselves with open looks early in the 35-second shot clock this season.
It’s in the decisions his players are making when presented such opportunities that Bennett is starting to see some maturation. The result on Tuesday was a Virginia performance that included making a season-high 60.5 percent of its shots from the field and half of its 14 three-point attempts.
“In the first half I thought we attacked, and that’s what got us a big lead early because [George Mason] wanted to pressure,” said fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski, who tallied a game-high 18 points. “In the second half they did the same thing. They wanted to speed us up, and I thought we did a good job of breaking the press and setting up our offense and not settling for a good shot.”
For the ninth straight contest, the Cavaliers (8-1) held their opponent to fewer than 60 points, but on Tuesday, George Mason’s offensive struggles largely were due to its own ineptness. The Patriots (6-3) finished with six assists and 20 turnovers, only half of which were the product of a Virginia steal.
“I thought our turnovers in the first half were just we didn’t do a good job of setting up,” George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt said. “When your wings are stopping at the top of the key extended or foul line extended, you have problems, instead of running down to the corners and setting up.”
The Patriots cut Virginia’s lead to 10 midway through the second half, and then Harris tallied a turnover immediately following a Cavaliers timeout. But in that timeout, Bennett implored his players once more not to settle for good shots, but to search for great shots.
Virginia got the ball back following another Patriots turnover, and on the Cavaliers’ ensuing possession, senior center Assane Sene muscled his way through two defenders for a layup with one second remaining on the shot clock. The next time down the floor, Scott passed up an open look and Harris later finished the play with a bucket.
After a three-game stretch at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands in which Virginia shot 41.9 percent from the field, the Cavaliers have shot 50.8 percent from the field in their past four contests.
“In the Virgin Islands, we talked a lot about how we were getting too many contested shots,” Harris said. “So we’ve been really focusing on offense on not taking that initial shot and working the offense.”