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Cavs pull away in second half

Virginia overcomes slow start, defensive struggles with sharp shooting to defeat USC Upstate 74-54

USC Upstate gave the Virginia men's basketball team a scare in John Paul Jones Arena last night before the Cavaliers dominated the second half to pull away with a 74-54 non-conference win. After leading by only three points at halftime, Virginia (2-0) used 65 percent shooting to nearly double its opponent's output during the game's final 20 minutes, going 43-26.

The Spartans (0-2) dictated the tempo early on, maintaining an 8-2 advantage five minutes into the game. Freshman guard KT Harrell finally buried a three-pointer to push the Cavaliers ahead 18-16 with eight minutes remaining in the first half. The lead changed hands several times during the rest of the half, with Virginia eventually taking a 31-28 edge heading into the break.

The Cavaliers connected on just 2-of-10 three-point attempts and 10-of-24 overall during the opening period, while the Spartans shot 50 percent from the field. Senior forward Mike Scott paced the Cavaliers with 12 first-half points in 18 minutes of play.

"They could get whatever they wanted in the first half," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "We were very easy to score against. We were lackluster offensively. There wasn't a sense of urgency and we were out of sync. We sort of gave them what they wanted and didn't impose our will at all on them from a defensive standpoint."

The squad continued to struggle at the start of the second half, as its lead was cut to two points at the 13-minute mark. USC Upstate's tight man-to-man defense kept Virginia from finding any kind of rhythm on the offensive end. A three-pointer by freshman guard Billy Baron extended the Virginia lead to five, and from there, the Cavaliers slowly pulled farther and farther ahead. Virginia's defense tightened up, limiting the Spartans to 38 percent shooting during the second half.

"[Bennett] just told us we really needed to step it up starting on the defensive end," freshman guard Joe Harris said. "We gave up too many open looks and straight line drives. We needed to stick to our principles ... We were underestimating our opponent coming in."

Scott finished with a game-high 19 points - including a perfect 7-for-7 at the free throw line - in 32 minutes of play. His 12 boards contributed to a 35-18 Virginia rebounding edge. Baron added 14 points on 3-of-4 shooting, and senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan chipped in 11. Sophomore point guard Jontel Evans cashed in 10 points, marking his first career double-figure scoring game.

"Last year, I struggled with my confidence shooting the ball," Evans said. "This year, I'm a lot more confident shooting the ball. My coaches and teammates have faith in me, so there's just a lot more confidence this year."

Sophomore guard Tony Dukes led USC Upstate with 19 points that featured 5-of-5 three-point shooting, making him the only Spartan in double figures. With the loss, USC Upstate falls to 0-5 all time against ACC competition.

The Cavaliers will begin a three-week road stint with Thursday's showdown at Stanford. They will not return home until a Dec. 7 tilt against Radford.

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