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No. 4 men’s basketball triumphant in season opener, downing Towson 89-54

The Cavaliers defeated the Tigers handily for the second time in three seasons despite short notice due to COVID-19 concerns

<p>Senior forward Sam Hauser looked as good as advertised in the Cavaliers' season-opener, finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds</p>

Senior forward Sam Hauser looked as good as advertised in the Cavaliers' season-opener, finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds

No. 4 Virginia took down Towson 89-54 in the first game of the “Bubbleville” series from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. The Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) defeated Towson (0-1, 0-0 CAA) on the shoulders of an offensive explosion led by junior guard Trey Murphy and senior forward Sam Hauser, who combined for 40 points. The 89 points scored by Virginia is the most scored by the defending national champions since a 100-64 win over Marshall in December 2018. 

Though Virginia was originally slated to face off against Maine on Wednesday, the Black Bears received positive COVID-19 test results that forced them out of the match up. This came after news that the Cavaliers’ Friday opponent, the Florida Gators, also received positive test results and would not be travelling to Uncasville. 

Virginia got off to a hot start against the Tigers on Wednesday, jumping out to a 19-7 lead at the 11:47 mark of the first half. Hauser and senior forward Jay Huff dominated the floor early and often for the Cavaliers, combining for 15 of Virginia’s 19 points near the midpoint of the opening half. 

Hauser demonstrated his offensive prowess for Virginia, posting an impressive 17 points, seven rebounds and two assists in the first half. The Marquette transfer proved to be a much-needed spark for the Cavaliers, breaking a five-minute scoring drought with a layup followed up by a tough turn-around jumper in the paint.

“All of last year I was chomping at the bit to get back on the court and play with these guys and it’s just a relief to be back out there playing with my new teammates,” Hauser said. “I’m just excited that we were able to play and I hope everything works out so we can play Friday again.”

Right along with Hauser was Huff, who recorded 12 points and four rebounds in the first half and showcased his improved three-point shooting ability and range. Huff nailed a 3-pointer with 5:38 remaining in the first half to extend the Virginia lead to 28-11. 

As the Cavaliers shot a stellar 61.5 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, this was to the credit of not only Hauser and Huff, but also attributed to an explosion by Murphy. Murphy scored nine points on three-of-three shooting from three-point range in the first frame.

As Virginia led 39-19 over Towson with just over two minutes remaining in the opening half, the Cavalier packline defense continued to suffocate the Tiger offense. Towson struggled to get any penetration into the Virginia defense and was unable to create open looks on the outside. In addition, the Cavaliers held Towson senior guard Zane Martin  — who averaged a team-leading 19.8 points per game the last season he suited up for the Tigers in 2017-18 — scoreless in the first half.

As the half came down to its final seconds, Hauser rose from the three-point line following a ball fake to nail yet another three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to go up 42-19.

Though the second half followed a similar narrative to that of the first, the momentum took a swing in the direction of the Tigers in the opening minutes. Sophomore guard Nicolas Timberlake hit three shots from three-point range within the first four minutes of the second half to cut the Virginia lead to 47-32. 

Despite Towson cutting into the Cavalier lead, a timeout by Coach Tony Bennett at the 15:34 mark allowed Virginia to regroup. Junior guard Kihei Clark led the effort to keep the Cavaliers in a commanding position with a quick two-point jumpshot after the timeout. 

Clark followed up on the next possession with a layup to put Virginia back up by a margin of 51-32. In addition to Clark’s efforts, Murphy continued to shine in the second half, hitting back-to-back three-pointers as the half neared the midway point. 

Murphy led the Cavaliers in scoring with 21 points, making seven of his nine field goal attempts with six of his seven makes being three-pointers. A slam dunk by Murphy with 8:53 remaining in the game put it well out of reach for Towson as Virginia had opened up a 67-36 lead.

A transfer from Rice, Murphy was expected to have to sit a year before being able to play for Virginia, but he received a waiver from the NCAA before Wednesday’s game. 

“When [Coach Bennett] told me, I just started smiling from ear to ear,” Murphy said. 

With the time remaining in the game, Bennett substituted in a number of new players. Redshirt freshman forward Kadin Shedrick and freshman guard Reece Beekman received quality minutes in both halves while the second half saw freshman guards Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Carson McCorkle and Malachi Poindexter enter the game.

As the game closed out, the Cavaliers outscored the Tigers 47-35 in the second half to win their season opener by a score of 89-54. As expected, the Virginia defense was stout and stingy throughout the game as Towson was held to just 36.7 percent from the floor. 

Timberlake led the Tigers with 19 points including five three-pointers. 

Though the Virginia defense was impressive as always, it was the team’s offense that may have caught the attention of the ACC as well as other national rivals. The Cavaliers maintained an outstanding 55.6 percent field goal percentage for the game and made 15 of 29 three-point attempts. 

With Virginia’s highest points scored in a game throughout the duration of last season sitting at 78 points, Wednesday’s 89 points in the season opener easily outpaced that. Alongside Murphy’s team-leading 21 points, Hauser’s 19 points and Huff’s 14 points also fueled the Cavaliers’ offense.

“Our depth can really be good and I think at practice it has made it competitive,” Bennett said. “To play all those different match-ups today and rotations was really good.”

The Cavaliers will go on to face San Francisco Friday in Uncasville for their second and final game in Bubbleville. Tip-off at the Mohegan Sun Arena is set for 11:30 am and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN. 

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