Murphy, a junior, is a transfer from Rice who learned only Tuesday night the NCAA had granted his waiver for immediate eligibility, allowing him to play in the tournament over Thanksgiving dubbed “Bubbleville,” following a similar controlled environment as the NBA used to complete its season near Orlando.
“Coach [Tony Bennett] told me outside of the group, and when he told me I just started smiling from ear to ear,” Murphy said. “You couldn’t really see it because I had my mask on, but me and Coach Bennett, we had a nice time as well, and then I walked back into the room, and I felt like the team had a little bit of an idea because they saw Coach Bennett smiling. They saw me smiling through my mask.”
Murphy made 7 of 9 shots, including 6 of 8 on three-pointers. It was part of an uncommonly robust performance for Virginia from behind the arc given its struggles last season, when the Cavaliers shot 30.3 percent and averaged 5.7 makes per game.
The Cavaliers went 15 for 29 (51.7 percent) on three-pointers against Towson, making four more than their single-game high last season. They made at least 10 three-pointers in a game just twice last season and only once shot better than 50 percent from behind the arc. Virginia’s point total also would have been its highest in a game last season by 11 points.
“The way we practiced this year, we didn’t really even have a starting five,” Bennett said. “This last week I was looking at different combinations, and we just always had good depth in practice, and again real competitive, one through thirteen. We didn’t think of it like who are we going to have or who aren’t we going to have.”
Highlighting the Cavaliers’ depth, 11 players scored and three reached double figures, including Sam Hauser. The 6-8 forward transferred from Marquette, sat out last season and scored 19 points in his Cavaliers debut, making 7 of 9 field goals and going 3 for 3 from three-point range.
With the final seconds ticking off before halftime, Hauser had the ball in his hands, caught a glimpse of the basket, squared his shoulders and released a shot that swished through the net. The buzzer-beater extended Virginia’s lead to 42-19 at halftime.
Center Jay Huff added 12 of his 14 points in the first half. The 7-foot-1 redshirt senior made 2 of 3 three-pointers and shot 6 for 8 overall, including several dunks, one of which came courtesy of a lob pass from junior point guard Kihei Clark, who had seven points, three assists and one turnover.
“I think it was kind of a relief knowing we can do that type of thing,” Hauser said of Virginia scoring 32 points more than its average last season. “It’s exciting to see. Kind of like Coach said, it doesn’t always happen like that, but today everyone was hitting, it seemed, so hopefully we can carry that over into Friday and our upcoming games. But definitely it’s fun to play when you’re making shots.”
Virginia played in the first wave of games, or Pod One, at Mohegan Sun Arena, but its opponent remained fluid until the day before tip-off. The Cavaliers had been scheduled to face Maine in the opener until Towson became the replacement opponent on late notice.
The next opponent for Virginia is scheduled to be San Francisco, a replacement for Florida, on Friday morning as an unprecedented college basketball season opens amid the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the sport, along with virtually all others, in the spring.
Before Wednesday, the Cavaliers had not played since March 7, beating Louisville, 57-54, on senior day in the regular season finale at John Paul Jones Arena.
“I tell our guys all the time, just remain grateful and thankful,” Bennett said. “It beats the alternative. Yeah, the fans weren’t there. Yes, we’ve had for a while practice with masks on, and they haven’t been able to have the interaction and contact as normal, but a blessing to practice and then to start this journey, and that’s sort of the attitude, just be as good as we can with what’s given to us.”