CHARLOTTESVILLE – There will be nights in the coming months when Virginia’s safety-net formula (Mike Scott plus solid defense) won’t equate to a favorable outcome, and so the Cavaliers prefer to use it sparingly.
But in its ACC opener Saturday, Virginia had little choice but to plug in that formula and hope for the best against an athletic Miami squad that had averaged 88 points in its previous four games. The final result – Cavaliers 52, Miami 51 – provoked a collective sigh of relief throughout John Paul Jones Arena.
The announced crowd of 11,283 remembered well that the Hurricanes had defeated Virginia twice in overtime last season. In the 2011 ACC tournament, Miami erased a 10-point Cavaliers lead with 40 seconds remaining in regulation.
This, however, is a different Virginia team in both roster makeup and maturity. Scott missed ACC play last year with an ankle injury, and his presence alone provides a critical bonus for the Cavaliers: The ability to survive a shaky teamwide offensive performance.
“I don’t think we played our best game tonight,” fifth-year senior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. “It’s a good feeling when you can still get a win and know you have more in the tank.”
Virginia’s defense this season has been one of the stingiest in the nation. On Saturday, the Cavaliers (14-1, 1-0 ACC) gave up 51 points — a season low for Miami (9-5, 0-1), even though it shot 46.2 percent in the second half.
That staunch defensive effort would have gone to waste, though, had it not been for the offensive prowess of Scott, a fifth-year senior forward. On a night when no other Virginia player tallied more than six points, Scott finished with 23. He attempted 36.4 percent of the Cavaliers’ field goals.
Zeglinski and sophomore guard Joe Harris – who both entered the night shooting better than 42 percent from the field and averaging more than 10 points per game – combined to make 3 of 13 shots (23.1 percent) and tally nine points.
“Hopefully, we’re not going to be that cold with our other guys” in future games, Coach Tony Bennett said. “You look at those numbers, and there wasn’t a ton of possessions in that game, so we felt like it was better to go through Mike in that situation than possibly looking other places.”
Scott attempted a shot on 13 of Virginia’s 21 possessions in the second half. His final basket came with 50.8 seconds remaining in the game to push the Cavaliers’ lead to four. Virginia did not score again.
“I’ve been trying to do it this whole season,” Scott said of shouldering a considerable offensive load for the Cavaliers. “I was doing it before I got hurt last year. Just stepping up to the challenge, being a leader, being a captain, so it’s no pressure.”
The Hurricanes had the ball with 13.1 seconds to play. Miami guard Durand Scott drove to the baseline, but was cut off by junior guard Jontel Evans. Scott spun, double-clutched and forced up a shot that fell short. Zeglinski forced a jump ball as the game clock expired.
The Mike-Scott-plus-stingy-defense formula “is successful, but we can’t depend on that the whole season,” Evans said. Scott “has to have help. He can’t do it by himself on the offensive end. He’s very gifted offensively, but [Saturday] it was his night. Other nights, we might not be able to just depend on him to get it done on the offensive end.”