Virginia tops rival Hokies, 65-45
Brogdon scores 18 as Cavaliers cruise to sixth conference win
The Virginia men’s basketball team is off to a surprisingly successful start in this season’s conference play. The last time the Cavaliers were 6-1 in ACC play was in 1983, when Virginia legend Ralph Sampson was in his senior season and the team made the Elite Eight.
The 2014 Cavaliers may not have Sampson, but nothing has stopped them from dominating conference opponents thus far. In Saturday’s matchup against Virginia Tech, Virginia cruised to a 65-45 win against its rivals, the team’s sixth win in seven games.
“Our guys have played pretty solid basketball in these victories,” coach Tony Bennett said. “It hasn’t been perfect, but that is what we’re going towards … in terms of how we’re playing from where we were – inconsistent, not as solid – to where we’ve been in these last seven games now.”
Bennett said he was happy with the team’s performance, but was careful to temper his excitement surrounding the Cavaliers’ (15-5, 6-1 ACC) hot start.
“We got to just keep going at it,” Bennett said. “Not to take away 6-1 — it means a lot to us — but that’s a little more than a third of our conference season. The season always breaks into three parts: your non-conference, your conference, and then your post season, and you keep on trucking with that.”
Virginia Tech (8-11, 1-6 ACC) only held a competitive edge early on in Saturday’s game, briefly taking the lead at 8-7 in just less than three minutes. The Cavaliers would go back on top thirty seconds later and they would not trail again in the game. Virginia Tech started the season as one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country, but the Hokies have recently tailed off after freshman Ben Emelogu and sophomore Adam Smith picked up injuries. The two were not effective in play Saturday, going just 3-for-18 from behind the arc.
“It is hard what [Virginia Tech coach James Johnson] is going through, losing those two guys who I think are their second and third leading scorers, so that kind of changes their attack,” Bennett said. “It is hard when you lose guys mid-season to all of a sudden change how you’re playing. I think that affected them. I think we contested, for the most part, a majority of their shots. When you play a good shooting team that is always the key.”
Virginia Tech lead scorer Jarell Eddie gained just three points in the first half, and finished with seven points for the game. Even in single digits, he was second in scoring behind freshman Devin Wilson, who had 12 points.
“We knew that, in the scouting report, [Eddie] is looking to come off screens and shoot with a quick release,” senior guard Joe Harris said. “I always tried to be there on the catch and if he tried to take a shot I would be there and contest it and make it difficult.”
Virginia went into halftime up 34-17 and were not troubled by the Hokies for the remainder of the game. Virginia Tech was able to close the margin to 12 points early on in the second half, but the Cavaliers would lead by more than 20 points for most of the second half. Virginia has now led by more than 20 points in each of their six ACC wins. Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon finished with 18 points and six rebounds, and Harris added 12 points behind him.
The Cavaliers were held at less than 70 points for just the second time in six games, but the offense continued to function effectively. The team shot more than 54 percent in the first half and had 14 assists to just 9 turnovers. Bennett said he thinks this Virginia team has grasped his system more than any other he has had in his five seasons in Charlottesville.
“They’re playing together and they’re collective defensively,” Bennett said. “A lot of the guys have some years in the system. They’re sharing the ball offensively. I think we realized after the Tennessee game how we need to play together and what we’re doing and I think that’s what has given us a chance to be competitive and successful.”
Bennett said one of his biggest concerns is making sure the players do not rest on their laurels and become complacent after yet another impressive win. They next head on a road trip for matchups against two unfamiliar foes — Tuesday against Notre Dame and Sunday against Pittsburgh.
“Coach always says to keep finding the crumbs, which is his way of saying find the little things to keep you hungry, keep you motivated,” Brogdon said. “We’re just trying to find the little things that keep us hungry and motivated and give us that edge that we need.”
Bennett described his goals in a slightly more poetic manner.
“I quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson to them, that ‘A hero is not fed on sweets,’” he said. “They’ve been on the pedestal and they’ve seen the other side. They got knocked down after they thought how good they’d be at the start of the year with all the projections. We weren’t tough enough, sound enough, or playing the kind of ball that gives us a chance. I said, ‘You have a tremendous opportunity and you worked hard to get to this spot, you just keep playing your ball and don’t give it back.’”