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Hot shooting propels Cavs

Late first-half surge pushes Virginia ahead for good against Georgia Tech

The Virginia men's basketball team put extra emphasis on outside shooting in practice last week, and the players began to see the rewards Saturday afternoon. The Cavaliers (11-8, 2-3 ACC) drained 10-of-15 three-pointers to knock off the visiting Yellow Jackets (9-9, 2-3 ACC) by a score of 72-64.

"We shot the ball really well, and I think that has a lot to do with how we have been practicing," junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "We have really been working on taking aggressive shots. Now it's really starting to pay off for us."

The Cavaliers found an early rhythm from behind the arc, hitting four consecutive treys to account for 12 of the team's first 14 points. Sophomore guard Jontel Evans assertively penetrated the lane before dishing it out to freshman guards Joe Harris and KT Harrell, whose successful long-range jumpers gave the Cavaliers an early 14-7 lead.

Despite Virginia's hot hand, the Yellow Jackets hung around by pushing the ball inside the paint against a Virginia lineup that featured four guards for a majority of the game. Georgia Tech managed to claw their way back to within one point of the Cavaliers with 5:41 remaining in the first half when senior guard Maurice Miller drove to the hoop and laid the ball off the glass for an easy deuce.

With the Cavaliers clinging to a narrow 25-24 lead following Miller's basket, senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan exploded offensively to help lead his team on a 18-5 run to close out the first half. The left-handed senior employed crafty ball-handling skills and a gentle touch to contribute eight points in the final four minutes of the half. Harrell also chipped in seven points during this run to give Virginia a cushy 43-29 lead at intermission.

"[Farrakhan] is showing completeness offensively," coach Tony Bennett said. "He's playing like a senior and playing well in the stretch. I keep encouraging him to lead and make us finish and bring the guys together. I think he's been pretty steady for us."

With blown double-digit leads against North Carolina and Duke still fresh in the Cavaliers' minds, Bennett's halftime message included an emphasis on continuing to take open looks and contesting every shot on the defensive side of the ball to close out the game with a win. Farrakhan seemed to take Bennett's words to heart, adding 10 more points following the stoppage to pace the Cavaliers, who extended their lead to 18 at one point in the second half. Farrakhan finished the afternoon with an ACC career-high 23 points and five assists.

"We just wanted to come out and finish a game," Farrakhan said. "The last couple of games, we've been ahead at the half or close at the half, and we've just let it slip away in the second half. Our big focus was just finishing it."

Although Virginia allowed Georgia Tech to pull within eight points following a 15-5 run to close out the game, the Cavaliers' steady shooting and trips to the foul line gave them enough to edge out the Yellow Jackets.

"I thought there were stretches of real good basketball, where the floor was spaced, we got nice rhythm and defended okay," Bennett said. "I told the guys, 'Keep knocking. You're getting close. Just keep knocking. You've been in a lot of games for stretches.' That was our theme going into the game."

The Cavaliers look to close out their current two-game home stand with a victory against Maryland on Thursday evening before heading on the road to take on Wake Forest. Thursdays's tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.