Leitao Loud and Proud in Triumphant Debut

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Mamadi Diane led five Cavs in double figures with 17 points.

If the Cavaliers ever do this to Duke or North Carolina, then we’ll know the Dave Leitao era is a rousing success. Still, pounding Liberty was a nice start to his Wahoo career.

Virginia surged to an 18-2 lead and used stellar rebounding and defense – Leitao’s main points of emphasis – to earn an easy 79-44 victory over the Flames tonight at University Hall. As the new head coach stomped, yelled and received his first technical foul, two other Cavaliers, freshmen Mamadi Diane and Laurynas Mikalauskas , quietly made positive debuts of their own. There were no opening night jitters for anybody.

“I walked out of the tunnel and I said to myself, ‘Here I am,’ and that was about it,” Leitao said. “Once I got to the bench, it was a gym, two teams, and I thought we were ready to go.”

Leitao was right. J.R. Reynolds, Sean Singletary and Adrian Joseph hit early 3-pointers and the Cavs held Liberty to one field goal in the first five minutes. The Flames, who returned just one starter from last year’s 13-15 team, shot 22.6% from the field and were outrebounded 49-32. Five ‘Hoos ended up in double figures: Diane (17 points), Singletary (15), Reynolds (14), Mikalauskas (14) and Joseph (12).

“If they get that kind of guard play,” said Liberty coach Randy Dunton, “they’ll be better than people think.”

Lars Mikalauskas made all five of his second-half shots.

The backcourt of Singletary and Reynolds is expected to carry the Cavaliers, and those two were solid, combining for 29 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and six steals. But both were limited by foul trouble – Singletary played just 23 minutes – and their teammates picked up the slack.

Diane and Mikalauskas, starting at forward in their college debuts, made major contributions. Mikalauskas ran the court, banged inside and made six of seven shots, converting nice feeds from the perimeter players when they drove to the basket. Diane showed an impressive all-around game with six rebounds, three assists, three blocks and no turnovers. He also did an outstanding defensive job on All-Big South guard Larry Blair, who missed 11 of 13 shots.

“He’s a great guy,” Mikalauskas said of Diane. “We’re roommates. We talk every day about what what we have to do. We dont’ have a lot of players. We have to do as much as we can to help this team win.”

Leitao also made quite an impression on the crowd – and the refs. When Jason Cain failed to block out three times in the first half, Leitao screamed at him each time. Other players got the same treatment after making fundamental mistakes. The officials also got an earful after Reynolds drove to the basket and was knocked down hard without a foul called. As Reynolds lay on the floor, Leitao stomped his foot and yelled, earning his first “T.” He continued to stare down official Tony Dawkins, but he didn’t get tossed.

“I’m not a ‘T’ guy. I probably got less than 10 in three years at DePaul and two years before (at Northeastern),” Leitao said, smiling. “I try to get them to the brink where they want to give it to me but not do it. But that one was earned.”

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    (For complete coverage of the Cavaliers, please sign up for Sabre Edge. Edge subscribers can listen to audio of Coach Leitao’s postgame press conference and interviews with Mamadi Diane and Sean Singletary )

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