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Cavs take season-opening win

Stellar second-half shooting pushes Cavaliers past William & Mary after slow beginning

Virginia fans squirmed nervously in their seats during the first 11 minutes of Friday night's men's basketball contest at John Paul Jones Arena. With nine minutes remaining in the first half, their team was down by two points against William & Mary, a squad picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association this season.

Billy Baron's hot hand, however, quickly dispelled everyone's nerves. Virginia's sharp-shooting freshman guard ignited the crowd with two consecutive three-pointers to pull his team ahead 17-13. The Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) never relinquished their lead and scored 23 more points than the Tribe (0-1, 0-0 CAA) during the second half to secure a 76-52 win.

"To come out in the second half, I think that was good for us as an extremely young team to have some adversity and keep our composure," coach Tony Bennett said. "With guys hitting shots, it ignited both ends of the floor for us."

The Cavaliers struggled to puncture William & Mary's matchup zone defense during the first half, as they only managed to score six points in the paint. Both teams shot less than 40 percent from the floor, and Virginia entered halftime with a slim 28-27 advantage.

Baron stepped up once again after the break to extend Virginia's edge. With the Cavaliers ahead 46-41, Baron sank a pair of free throws and on the next possession buried a three-pointer to give his team its first double-digit lead of the game. Baron ended the night with 19 points - the most of any player on either side - on 6-of-8 shooting, including 5-of-6 from three-point land.

"I definitely did [have butterflies] before the game," Baron said. "But once I got out there and saw the support of the fans, my family, the team and coaches, having that support is really big. And once that first one went down, everything kind of took care of itself."

During the second half, Virginia connected on seven out of 10 three-point field goal attempts and tallied 14 fast-break points to William & Mary's zero. Senior forward Mike Scott made four of his five shots in the final period and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds during a team-high 32 minutes of play.

"You have to make some outside shots against their zone," Bennett said. "But you also have to establish some inside touches, and Mike [Scott] had a better second half. The inside-outside attack helped. We just kept saying, 'Make them earn.'"

Bennett gave his freshmen plenty of playing time, as they comprised five of the 10 Cavaliers put into the game. Guard KT Harrell - the only freshman in the starting lineup - led the young group with 13 points during 28 minutes of play. Freshmen forwards Akil Mitchell, Will Regan and guard Joe Harris also entered the fray, each knocking down a basket.

"Coaches didn't expect us to play like freshmen," Harris said. "We don't want to be seen just as freshmen, so when the four of us are out there, we're really confident in one another's abilities, just like everybody else on the floor."

Freshman forward James Johnson - a touted 6-foot-9 recruit from California - did not enter the game. Bennett said he and Johnson came to a mutual decision to redshirt him this season with the hope that he will get stronger and polish his game before entering the mix. Johnson's development was slowed when he injured his ankle in the team's first practice and subsequently missed the first week-and-a-half of practice.

The Cavaliers return for their final home game of the month tonight, when they face USC Upstate at John Paul Jones Arena for a 7 p.m. tip-off.

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