Virginia’s Adrian Joseph scored a game-high 17 points in the exhibition.
The Virginia basketball team opened Dave Leitao’s second season with a 78-63 exhibition game victory on Saturday night in the first men’s game in the new John Paul Jones Arena. The Hoos used a hot-shooting first half (53.3 percent) to pull ahead of Augusta State and never really let the visitors back in the contest.
Leitao said the first game in the new building was a good experience and that the JPJ doesn’t have the usual issues of large arenas.
“For big buildings, they can be a challenge shooting because of the vastness. This building doesn’t have any of that,” Leitao said. “It’s an easy shooter’s gym – the lighting, and everything else, the ambience and all of that is pretty good. Obviously when you get into the season, you’ll have a little bit more people and fans and all of that. It’s the same size, 10 feet rims and all of that. When you’re competing, that’s all you really think about.”
Virginia’s Adrian Joseph , who led the way with 17 points, said this is one of the first times the Cavaliers have played on the main floor so an adjustment period should be expected. Of course, Joseph seemed to adjust pretty quickly – he finished 5 of 11, but after missing his first three shots, he made 5 of 8 attempts.
“Tonight is the first time we played a game on the floor. We played a couple of times before but most of the time we’re on the practice courts,” Joseph said. “There is a difference from the practice rims so there was a little adjustment in terms of shooting and stuff, but it was O.K. afterward.”
The Cavaliers struggled early with turnovers and missed shots, but still managed to rush out to an 18-4 lead midway through the opening half. That advantage ballooned to 22-7 before the Jaguars made their only sustained push of the game – back-to-back 3-pointers cut the lead to 22-15 at 7:04. But the hosts ripped off a 13-0 run and the lead never dipped into single digits again.
As a whole, the contest proved to be a typical exhibition game. There were a variety of line-ups and experimental player groupings. There were reward minutes for guys like Andy Burns. Sloppy play and turnovers – lots of turnovers (24 by UVa and 16 by State) – took complete control at times.
Ultimately, however, the Cavaliers left the game with two related thoughts in mind: they’re further along than a year ago, but there’s still plenty of work to do.
Sean Singletary had a good outing for the Cavaliers with 13 points and 8 assists.
“I think we’re in a way better position. We’ve got a lot more players and we work harder,” Joseph said of the comparison to a year ago. “The next thing we have to do is come together and have a lot better [on-floor] chemistry and talk a lot more on the court.”
Among the encouraging signs Saturday? Sean Singletary showed no ill effects of offseason surgery. He moved fluently, had explosiveness on his cuts and jumping, and had good burst off the dribble. Singletary had a good night statistically, finishing with 13 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. His backcourt mate, J.R. Reynolds, found a way to score 16 points despite shooting poorly for much of the game.
Returning wing players Mamadi Diane and Joseph hit some open 3-pointers. Joseph, as mentioned earlier, shot the ball really well after a slow start and he added 5 defensive rebounds (second on the team). Diane, meanwhile, hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half.
Also, returning posts Jason Cain and Laurynas Mikalauskas led the way on the rebounding front. Cain looked to be in the great physical condition and he led the team with 8 defensive rebounds. In limited offensive touches, he scored 8 points as well. Mikalauskas seemed to lack any vertical explosiveness after suffering injuries to both ankles in the preseason, but he still battled his way to 10 rebounds (9 offensive).
“Definitely, it is a tone-setting [thing for the returning players]. Last year, we did pretty well in rebounding, offensive rebounding and such, so this year we want to do even better. We want to lead the ACC in rebounding,” Mikalauskas said. “That’s what we can do well and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
On the downside, two key incoming players and one veteran did not play because of injuries. Will Harris has been out after having bone spurs removed with surgery and Solomon Tat did not play with a day-to-day groin injury. Also, Tunji Soroye is dealing with a sports hernia injury and did not suit up.
The Cavaliers’ Jamil Tucker logged 23 minutes, but two of the freshmen did not play because of injury.
“Obviously when you play exhibitions, you get a chance to evaluate … but I think it’s very difficult right now to continue to evaluate our team … because we’re banged up. Even the guys who are playing aren’t fully there. In order to do that, you need to get more rest and unfortunately you can’t rest right now, you have to move forward,” Leitao said. “If you look at the other teams in the league, none of them will have as challenging a start as we will next Sunday so it gives us a pretty good dilemma over the last week or two and especially next week in trying to prepare. So as disjointed as we can be sometimes, it’s hard to piece things together because we’re so incomplete.”
Plus, the Hoos had far too many turnovers, finishing with the aforementioned 24. Diane struggled the most with 8 in that category. The team’s offensive production also dipped significantly after halftime when the Jaguars took away the fastbreak opportunities a lot more consistently. UVa shot just 31.3% after intermission and the defensive effort also started to drop off once the game was obviously in hand (and Leitao experimented with line-ups).
That should provide motivation for a group that has lofty expectations this season. After all, Leitao demands toughness in defense and rebounding. Plus, Arizona rolls into the JPJ on Sunday, Nov. 12 for the season opener.
“We definitely aren’t satisfied. We still have a lot of work to do,” Mikalauskas said. “We have to come back some more and practice again. We’re definitely not ready, but everyday hopefully we’re going to get better and better. Next Sunday, we have a very hard opponent and we definitely have to play a lot better in order to beat Arizona.”
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