CHARLOTTESVILLE — For now, it will only be remembered as one defensive adjustment during one half of one game this season.
But if Virginia sophomore Justin Anderson consistently emerges as the sort of versatile spark plug few teams in the country can turn to off the bench, the Cavaliers (5-1) may very well look back to Tuesday’s 69-40 win over Hampton as his launching point.
With 5-foot-11 Pirates point guard Deron Powers knifing his way into the lane at will against Virginia freshman London Perrantes through six minutes of the first half, Coach Tony Bennett switched the 6-6, 227-pound Anderson onto Powers, who scored 29 points Sunday in a loss at Missouri State.
The former All-Met from Montrose Christian then showed why he’s well-suited for such an unorthodox assignment, jump-starting a defensive performance that the Cavaliers would love to duplicate the rest of the season.
Not only did Powers fail to score another field goal the rest of the evening, the high-flying Anderson tallied his first dunk of the year off a steal, set up another fast-break finger roll by Joe Harris by diving into the scorer’s table for a loose ball and, subsequently, ignited a 23-0 run that broke open a tie game for good.
“He’s what we call a roadblock,” Bennett said.
Harris and Anderson combined to score the first 18 points during the surge, but it was Virginia’s play on the other end of the floor that paved the way for a blowout. At one point, Harris, Anderson and Perrantes met at the free throw line with the score tied at 16 and agreed on a singular goal: “We’re gonna hold them at 16.”
They did just that for 8 minutes 28 seconds, and Hampton (2-4) missed nine of its next 10 shots entering halftime. It didn’t get any easier in the second half and the Pirates had just one basket over a span of more than 17 minutes when Virginia’s lead ballooned to 36 points.
Hampton committed 17 turnovers and didn’t eclipse 40 points until less than a minute remained in regulation and Bennett’s walk-ons were all on the court. The Pirates shot just 32.7 percent from the floor against the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense.
Harris led the way offensively, scoring a game-high 20 points on 7-of-7 shooting. He also hit four of Virginia’s eight three-pointers.
But it was Anderson’s multi-dimensional play that could be of more importance in the long term for Virginia, which faces Southern Methodist on Friday in the semifinal round of the Corpus Christi Challenge. The sophomore tied his season high with 12 points to go with four rebounds, three blocks and two steals, and his responsibilities ran the gamut from ball-handler to defensive enforcer.
“I love guarding point guards,” Anderson said of Powers (six points, four turnovers). “I took it personal to stop him.”
Perhaps more shocking was that one of Virginia’s most athletically gifted players didn’t have a dunk before Tuesday. Harris admitted he “never would’ve guessed that,” although Anderson is coming off the bench this season after ending last year as a starter.
With or without the highlight-reel slams, he’s embracing the role.
“I didn’t get up that high, but it felt great to finally get one,” Anderson said. “And it happened the right way: A great defensive stop.”