Sean Singletary surpassed 1,000 career points with a 33-point night against American. (American photos by Ian Rogol)
After losing two of three games in last week’s San Juan Shootout, Virginia needed to vent some pent-up frustration. American University proved to be the perfect patsy as the Cavaliers easily handled the Eagles, 91-70, in front of a crowd of 13,126 at the John Paul Jones Arena on Thursday evening.
“We knew that we had to come out with intensity,” junior shooting guard J.R. Reynolds said. “We can’t let teams dictate the tempo to us. I think we did that for the first 20 minutes of tonight’s game.”
After struggling with his shooting touch in Puerto Rico, junior point guard Sean Singletary rebounded with perhaps his best performance of the season. Singletary led the Cavaliers (8-3, 1-0 ACC) with a season-high 33 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. He drained 5 of 9 3-point attempts and was a perfect 10 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Singletary scored 13 straight points for Virginia early in the first half as the Cavaliers built a 15-9 lead.
“I just felt more comfortable,” Singletary said. “We got back from Puerto Rico and we felt like we really embarrassed the program. We lost games we shouldn’t have lost, but I just started feeling one hundred percent healthy this week and I had a great week of practice and I was able to get extra shots like I was last year and my jump shot felt fluent and when my jump shot feels fluent I’m able to do a lot of other things.”
Reynolds, who also struggled mightily with his shooting touch in Puerto Rico, finished with a season-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He was 8 of 8 from the charity stripe but missed both of his 3-point attempts.
J.R. Reynolds poured in a season-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
Virginia coach Dave Leitao was thrilled to see such a high level of both offensive and defensive productivity from the Cavaliers’ two backcourt leaders.
“For the both of them to play with the confidence, the speed and the energy that they did on both ends of the floor was quite pleasing,” Leitao said. “Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come as we get into tougher competition that we can depend on their consistency.”
During the three days of practice leading up to the American game, Leitao and his staff stressed the importance of defense, and, more particularly, defensive intensity. Judging from Virginia’s defensive effort in the first half, the message appears to have registered. American (7-5, 0-0 Patriot) was limited to 19 first-half points on 7-of-29 shooting from the field.
“The bottom line is that we still have some work to do but I think, in the short time that I’ve been here, that’s about as good of 20 minutes of defense as you can play,” Leitao said. “I thought we really took them out of their rhythm and as a result they shot 24 percent.”
The most striking aspect of Virginia’s first-half defensive effort was that the Cavaliers limited the Eagles to 1-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc. In its two losses in Puerto Rico, Virginia allowed its opponents to hit 24 of 47 3-point attempts.
“[Virginia] came out being very aggressive defensively, being very physical and we certainly did not respond to that very well,” American coach Jeff Jones said.
UVa’s defensive effort did slip significantly in the second half as the Cavaliers were outscored 51-49 over the final 20 minutes. After trailing 42-19 at halftime, the Eagles used an 11-0 run to make Virginia sweat a little bit in the second half. But the Cavaliers stopped the bleeding and the Eagles, who hit 17 of 30 shots in the second half, never got closer than 13 points.
Mamadi Diane had 8 points against the Eagles.
“So I don’t let it off the hook, and I still have to have my stomach churn, we still have a lot of work to do because we did let up the intensity,” Leitao said. “We gave them 50 points which is part of what got us into the trouble that we were in the last week or so.”
Overall, Virginia converted 28 of 57 shots (49.1%) from the field. From the free-throw line, the Cavaliers drilled 27 of 28 attempts. In Puerto Rico, Virginia only hit 54 of 78 free throws.
With junior forward/center Ryan Pettinella out due to injury, several Virginia post players saw increased activity. Junior center Tunji Soroye made his second start of the season and scored four points, all on free throws. Freshman forward Jamil Tucker scored a career-high nine points and sophomore forward Laurynas Mikalauskas tallied five points over 15 minutes of play. Senior forward Jason Cain was limited to two points. Cain did not start for the first time in 34 games.
Jones, who coached the Cavaliers from 1990-1998, was warmly greeted in his return to Charlottesville. Before the game, he received a standing ovation when his name was announced.
Notes: With 6:11 remaining in the second half, Singletary scored his 1,000th career point. … Pettinella will miss three to four weeks due to a dislocation of his left knee patella suffered last week in the 59-52 win over Puerto Rico-Mayaguez. He will have surgery on Friday to remove loose cartilage.
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