With all the fuss surrounding the talented Cavalier newcomers -- including a scintillating pure point guard from the Bronx -- incumbent floor general Donald Hand was almost lost in the shuffle. Now more than halfway through the season, Hand remains the heart and soul of the Virginia basketball team.
On a night when forward Chris Williams and shooting guard Roger Mason combined for only five points, Hand asserted himself as he did so many times last season, taking over down the stretch in the Cavs' (14-5, 4-2 ACC) 86-81 win against Florida State.
The third-year point guard finished with 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the floor, hit half of his eight three-point attempts and sunk 8-of-9 free throws, including five in the final minute. It looked like so many of the performances Hand put together last season, when the outgunned Cavaliers depended on him for almost half of their offense.
"He was rolling," fellow Cav point guard Majestic Mapp said. "He hit some big threes and he hit some big free throws. He's always there on the free throw line every night, because if he's not our best free throw shooter, he's one of the best. When he gets to the free throw line, it's automatic."
When the Seminoles (8-9, 3-3), down by four with less than a minute remaining, began to foul to stop the clock, Hand was the man the Cavs wanted on the line. Six times he went to the line; five times he got the result he wanted.
"Free throws win games," Hand said. "You start getting fouled and if we don't hit some free throws, maybe they have a chance to win. I'm glad we just buckled down and got the game under control."
"Donald played a great game," Virginia Coach Pete Gillen said. "He was great, especially in the first half."
Hand poured in 10 of the first 18 Cavalier points with a tough three-point play in the lane, a pair of fast-break lay-ups and a three-point bomb from the wing. Virginia got going offensively as its veteran floor leader heated up from the floor.
"It's everyone's team," Hand said. "We all contribute in different ways. [But] I feel that as I play as we start the game out, that's the way the team's going to go."
Hand did most of his damage from the floor in a 15-point first half. The New Jersey native knocked down 6-of-9 field goals and hit the only free throw he attempted. He hit the second of his two first-half treys as the halftime buzzer sounded, boosting Virginia to a 46-45 lead at intermission.
Compared to the performance of Florida State point guard Delvon Arrington, Hand's night looks even better. Smothered and harassed by Hand and Mapp for most of the night, Arrington managed only eight points on 3-of-14 shooting and had more turnovers than assists.
"He's a very good player," Hand said diplomatically. "We felt he was the key to their team, because he can get nine assists and about 10 points and just buckle down in every area."
Yet Arrington's biggest responsibility remains dishing the ball to Seminole scorers Ron Hale and Damous Anderson. Hand, as Florida State can attest, is capable of far more than that.