Virginia tops Florida State, 78-66
Harris has 18 points, Cavaliers sweep season series
For the fourth time in five games, the Virginia men’s basketball blazed out to a fast start against a conference opponent, piling on early against Florida State. Save an uninspired start in Monday’s loss to Duke, the Cavaliers have cruised early on in ACC play.
Saturday’s game looked to be headed towards an easy conclusion until a Florida State (12-5, 3-2 ACC) rally and late fight led to a more exciting finish, but Virginia (13-5, 4-1 ACC) held on for a 78-66 win and a season sweep of the Seminoles.
“I think everything has clicked in terms of just solid defense,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “Guys have shot it well. We’ve had a level of composure and patience and we’re just getting good looks and the guys have been ready. There’s been a sense of urgency … What hurts you in starts is when you allow the other team early shots or you have breakdowns.”
Florida State hit the first shot of the game — a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Devon Bookert — but Virginia promptly went on a 14-0 run, seizing control. The Cavaliers would never look back — it was the game’s only lead change, and they would remain at least seven points ahead for the remainder of the game.
Senior guard Joe Harris did not score during the early run, but would make up for it later. The Cavaliers’ leading scorer poured in a team-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including 4-for-5 from behind the arc. The team’s complete play eased the burden on Harris in the early goings.
“We have a number of guys that are capable of scoring, we’ve shown that throughout the entire year,” Harris said. “At this point of the season, everybody understands what we need to do. I think we’ve kind of found our identity.”
After a disappointing shooting night against Duke, the Cavaliers came out hot in the first half, shooting 55.2 percent from the field to head into halftime up 45-26. Virginia was 5-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half, and finished 7-for-11 for the game.
Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon had 16 points, six assists and four steals in another strong effort. Brogdon has scored in double digits in each of the team’s five ACC games, and led the team with 17 points against Duke, including the three-point play that tied the game late. After sitting out all of last year with an injury, he appears to be hitting his stride at the right time.
“He’s been solid since we started ACC play,” Bennett said. “He’s shown his completeness, taking care of the ball, guarding. His size and strength are helpful, he hit a couple nice floaters and pull-ups. He seems more comfortable on the floor early. I don’t know if that’s you redshirting and it takes some time … but he’s played back-to-back quality games.”
If Virginia had any weakness against the Seminoles, it was the team’s ability to finish at the rim. Sophomore center Mike Tobey had 13 points, but he was just 4-for-11 from the field and struggled at times to battle down low against Florida State’s big men.
“I think we’re talking about the strength factor, and it’s a process,” Bennett said. “He used a couple fakes at the end, but when I look out there, I see a lot of it is that he’s got to go towards the rim, he’s got to use fakes. Physically, he has to continue to get stronger. Florida State is a hard team to finish [against] … we got a few at the rim, but those are obviously long, big, athletic guys.”
Virginia led by a large margin for much of the second half, but Florida State made a late comeback. A 10-1 run cut the lead to 69-57 with 4:22 to play in the second half, but Harris hit a 3-pointer two minutes later to stop the bleeding and solidify the lead.
“[The Seminoles] always hang around, they always want to hit big shots and come from behind,” senior forward Akil Mitchell said. “They’re a very confident team so they’re not going to go away, especially against us. We expected it, and I’m glad that we hung on. … It’s a little concerning, because I think we let our foot off the gas – I know I did – and I can’t do that anymore.”
With under a minute left in the game, Virginia led 78-64 and was looking to run time off the clock. Brogdon advanced the ball up the court and seeing an open Justin Anderson, threw up an alley-oop, which the sophomore guard caught for an emphatic dunk. Referee Jamie Luckie called Anderson for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and the dunk incited a skirmish between Virginia and Florida State players.
Both Virginia freshman guard London Perrantes and Seminole senior forward Okaro White were called for technical fouls — White fouled out — and sophomore guard Teven Jones and junior forward Darion Atkins were ejected from the game for leaving the bench. After time ran out, the team met for a post-game handshake and another small fight broke out.
“I know Coach Bennett is a class act and he works very hard to keep his kids disciplined in the ACC,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “We’ve been down [in Tallahassee] 12 years and have had very little instances when our kids have responded in a negative way. I think sometimes things happen and you got to learn from it, grow from it and move on. I don’t think his kid meant any disrespect and I don’t think our kid meant any disrespect.”
The Cavaliers now turn their attention to their Monday night matchup against North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been one of the more mysterious teams in the country, beating then-No. 3 Louisville and then-No. 1 Michigan State, both away from Chapel Hill, but also tallying losses to Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham. The team started ACC play 0-3 before beating Boston College Saturday.
“They’re talented,” Bennett said. “That’s a storied program, and they have very gifted players. When your back gets against the wall, you see teams come out and respond and it’ll be our job to be as ready as we can. … They’ve shown great basketball in tough settings.”