The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Squad stifles Bulldogs

Harrell, Harris lead Virginia to 75-38 romp in opener with 13 points apiece

The Virginia men's basketball team opened its season with a 75-38 win against South Carolina State at John Paul Jones Arena yesterday, but coach Tony Bennett rated the performance as just "OK."

His team limited the Bulldogs to just 25.5 percent shooting and the squad's suffocating defense held the opponent scoreless for long stretches, including a 24-0 run during the second half. Still, the Cavaliers took time to find their own offensive legs, shooting just 41.4 percent and 30 percent from behind the arc during the first half.

"There's been a high level of fire in their bellies when we've practiced, [and] I was kind of curious: 'Now you're in front of people, you've battled a little bit of the butterflies in the nerves, will you bring that kind of tenacity that's required?'" Bennett said. "I thought they did a good job for the most part. Missing some of the first shots, we were nervous, but our rotation defensively was good, and I think they understand what we have to do to be good this year."

Virginia's shooters misfired on their first six shots, but after sophomore guard Joe Harris drew iron from the corner, senior forward Mike Scott ensured his team would not miss a seventh straight attempt, grabbing the rebound and slamming it down. Scott missed the bulk of last season with an ankle injury and during his absence, Virginia sorely missed his play inside. In his return yesterday, Scott provided a valuable post presence, hauling in 12 of the team's 24 rebounds in the first half.

"The first time out there in a while, so the adrenaline is going, I just felt like a rookie again," Scott said. "I had freshman legs and until that first timeout I got tired, but after that time I just settled down and played my game."

Scott's dunk ignited the Virginia offense, which buried five of its next eight shots while assuming an 11-4 lead. Harris knocked down two threes during that run and finished the first half with a team-high 11 points.

Virginia held South Carolina State to just 10 points through the half's first 18 minutes but lapsed near the end and allowed eight points during the final two minutes. The Cavaliers surrendered another bucket 10 seconds into the second period, but then awakened both offensively and defensively to author a 24-0 run and assume a 57-20 lead.

"We were just going and they didn't score," senior center Assane Sene said. "When we play defense, we're really good. If we decide to play defense and say, 'Nobody is gonna score on us,' nobody is gonna score on us."

During the second half, South Carolina State switched to a box-and-one defense that dedicated one man to try to immobilize the hot-shooting Harris. The move opened up the floor for sophomore guard KT Harrell, who started in place of injured senior guard Sammy Zeglinski. Harrell began just 1-of-6 from the field but capitalized on the defensive shift by nailing three straight treys to start the second half.

Harrell averaged 10.5 points during the first 19 games of his freshman campaign, but faltered near season's end, posting just 4.1 points per game in his last 12 tilts. He never broke double digits during that stretch, but Harrell worked hard to refine his game during the offseason and finished with 13 points, as well as a career-high three assists and two steals, yesterday.

"I wanted to get a lot lighter, I lost a couple pounds to get a lot quicker and faster, get more consistency on my shot," Harrell said of his offseason adjustments. "Last year is last year - of course I'll use that as motivation during the summer to get better, but this year is a new year."

Harrell's hot hand and Virginia's deadly defense effectively sealed the game for the Cavaliers and allowed Bennett to test some of the team's newest additions. Heralded redshirt freshman forward James Johnson drew one of the game's biggest ovations when he subbed in with 4:42 remaining in the first half. The 6-foot-9 highly-touted recruit did not attempt a shot from the field, but consistently drew fouls while penetrating the post and finished 6-of-8 from the line.

Freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon headlines this year's freshman class and also received significant minutes as the game drew to a close. Brogdon tallied nine points and four assists but also periodically slowed down defensively when the game seemed out of reach.

"Our team at times was a little casual, but when you get a lead like that, it's kind of hard to know what to do," Bennett said. "I was pleased with some things [Brogdon] did. Defensively I think he has to get more active, but I certainly like his strength and his feel."

With a large lead and inexperienced lineup, Virginia tailed off near the end, and South Carolina State matched the Cavaliers' 18 points during the final 13 minutes. Although the game was never in jeopardy, junior guard Jontel Evans proclaimed such defensive letdowns unacceptable. Virginia limited a weary Bulldog team to just 23.1 percent shooting during the second half, but the guard graded the 37-point victory a "B-minus."

"That lapse in the second half on the defensive end, that's not us, we have to keep our foot on the pedal, we can't ever have lapses like that." Evans said. "Don't let up on defense, that's our bread and butter, we have to be strong and have humility on that end"