New-look Cavaliers push past Morgan State

No. 6 Virginia basketball eased into the 2015-16 season with an opening-night contest against Morgan State. The Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) delivered as promised with an 86-48 blowout over the Bears (0-1, 0-0 MEAC).

However, the final score was irrelevant since the talent discrepancy was simply too overwhelming, rendering an upset victory by Morgan State nearly impossible. Far more significant than the final point tally Friday, was the energy and pace with which Virginia played.

The Cavaliers started the game colder than ice. An undersized and undermanned Bears team frustrated Virginia with their zone defense, and the Cavaliers were missing wide-open jump shots and blowing shots from point-blank range — missing 12 of their first 13.

“The beginning of the game we had a little bit of jitters,” senior forward Anthony Gill said. “We didn’t come out as strong as we should, and we weren’t finishing as strong as we should have.”

But the Cavaliers would wake up, and a 6-0 run resulted in a Morgan State timeout with 6:30 remaining in the first half. From there, the shots kept falling. Virginia made 11 of their final 23 attempts to close out the half with a 40-23 advantage.

Tempo was a key factor in the Cavaliers’ offensive awakening late in the first half. Although the box score may not reflect it, as Virginia was credited with only two fast break points in the entire game, the sense of urgency in getting the ball down the floor kick-started a sluggish offense.

“I think us running a little bit more, making it more up-tempo … is a lot of fun,” sophomore Devon Hall said. “[Darius Thompson] is extremely athletic, he runs the wing, he’s aggressive, he makes plays and he’s unselfish. I love playing with him.”

And those two fast break points were a doozy. In the dying seconds of the first half, junior guard London Perrantes blocked an attempt by freshman Martez Cameron. Sophomore Marial Shayok picked up the rebound and fired an outlet to Hall, who fed sophomore Darius Thompson for a vicious one-handed slam.

“London had to make a big block,” Thompson said. “It was a two-on-one situation, so [Devon] decided to throw it up to me. I had to go get it.”

Thompson made the absolute most of his Cavalier debut, ending the game with 12 points on 4-6 shooting, six rebounds and four assists. Furthermore, the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native was an engine pushing Virginia down the court in transition.

Against the Bears, Thompson found a running mate in Hall. The duo of guards contributed an unprecedented dynamism in the open floor.

“Darius and Devon gave us nice lifts,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought that helped us extend [our first half lead].”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We are not witnessing the second coming of Loyola Marymount under head coach Paul Westhead.

Virginia held firm to their defensive principles in a more up-tempo contest. The Cavaliers limited Morgan State to 34 percent shooting and did not yield a single fast break point. On the other side of the court, Virginia bludgeoned the Bears with 42 points in the paint. Senior center Mike Tobey scored a game-high 15 points and only missed one shot of the eight he attempted.

The larger question still remains if Virginia will continue this new streak of faster basketball. Some teams will be more than happy to let the Cavaliers run, but the best teams will not be so inclined. When the stakes are the highest, do not be surprised if Virginia goes back to what got them here in the first place — physical defense, a methodical offense and acute attention to the glass.

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