Boston College did its best imitation of the Virginia basketball team in the first half of Saturday’s game at John Paul Jones Arena. But lately, no team can quite match the Cavaliers’ unique style in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers (14-5, 4-2 ACC) won their 11th straight home game on the heels of a second-half offensive flourish in a 65-51 win against the Eagles (9-10, 1-5 ACC) to notch their third straight victory, all within the ACC.
Virginia has relied on a combination of accurate 3-point shooting and shut-down defense to run its home record to 12-1. It was Boston College, however, that came out with the hot hand early, hitting five 3-pointers in the first half to take a 26-24 lead at the break. But everything changed after the home team emerged from the locker room to start the second half.
“We kind of all knew, we’re back at home, the first half didn’t quite go as we expected, but we all kind of knew that if we got rolling, it would be a good half for us offensively,” junior forward Akil Mitchell said.
Behind the frantic play of freshman guard Justin Anderson and the post presence of Mitchell, Virginia blistered the nets for 17-of-22 shooting in the second half. The Cavaliers’ 77 percent shooting from the field in the period was their best in a half since Feb. 7, 1984, and the team scored 26 of its 41 second-half points in the paint.
“We knew we would have an advantage inside,” Mitchell said. “Our jump shots weren’t really falling in the first half, but we did a good job of shifting our focus and getting inside in the second half.”
Leading the way was the athletic Anderson, who displayed more polish to his offensive game to complement his raw energy. The combo guard scored 14 of his career-high 16 points in the second half, taking control while normally reliable junior guard Joe Harris was limited to just seven points.
“This game was the most I’ve seen Justin around the lane and making some plays and some nice drives,” coach Tony Bennett said. “He grew up in today’s game.”
Anderson was animated throughout, pumping his fist after each basket as he closed the door on Boston College’s comeback bid with a dominant second-half performance.
“You can’t calm him down,” senior guard Jontel Evans said. “He brings energy from team dinner all the way to the game. He’s that type of player, and when he’s focused and locked in, he’s hard to stop.”
Virginia took a 33-31 lead with 15:33 remaining in the game on a left-handed layup by Anderson. From there, the team’s ACC-best defense stepped up as it has done repeatedly at home this season. The Cavaliers held their opponent scoreless for the next five minutes, and Anderson bookended an 11-0 run with an and-one bank shot inside.
“[Anderson] has that dynamic of athleticism, that explosiveness that makes some plays for him,” Bennett said. “It was good to see that on display.”
Boston College was led by its own Anderson — sophomore forward Ryan Anderson — who finished with a team-high 14 points and four rebounds. He entered the game third in the ACC in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.5 points and 9.4 boards for the Eagles, but Mitchell helped hold him to just 5-of-14 shooting from the field.
Mitchell, meanwhile, finished with 16 points and six rebounds and helped turn the momentum before halftime by rejecting Ryan Anderson’s lay-up attempt on the Eagles’ final possession of the period.
Along with Anderson, fellow freshmen forwards Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey stepped up big when needed most. Nolte was limited to just 11 minutes because of early foul trouble, but made his time on the court count, scoring nine points.
Tobey showed off a refined low post game, finishing with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting and three rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. His emergence has proved critical with sophomore forward Darion Atkins missing his third straight game due to a right leg injury.
“These guys, they’re not playing like first years,” Evans said. “They’re playing like upperclassmen and it’s fun to watch.”
Sophomore guard Paul Jesperson — who is also filling in for an injured starter — shined in his 18th start of the season. He has been a steady presence at shooting guard for Bennett in the absence of sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon, who went down with a foot injury at the end of last season and took a redshirt this season.
Jesperson filled up the stat sheet Saturday with a career-high seven rebounds and three steals, to go along with six points and two assists in a team-high 37 minutes. But more importantly, he held sharpshooting Eagle sophomore guard Lonnie Jackson to just nine points on six attempts from the field.
“I thought Paul Jesperson had an understated game but a very important game with his defense and his play on the glass,” Bennett said. “That was significant because [Jackson] might be one of the best shooters in the ACC and he did a good job on him for the most part.”
Virginia held Boston College to 36 percent shooting from the field for the game and made 56 percent of its own shots. The Cavaliers’ bench also chipped in 24 points — the 18th time in 19 games that the backups have reached double-digit points. That performance was key on an afternoon in which the starting backcourt of Evans and Harris combined for just 10 points.
Virginia will now prepare for a nationally televised matchup against No. 18 N.C. State Tuesday in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will look for their first four-game winning streak in ACC play since 2007.
“Our confidence is very high, but we’re very hungry and at the same time we’re very humble,” Evans said. “We just [have] to continue to do the things that got us here on this three-game win streak. If we do that, the sky’s the limit.”