Sylven Landesberg scored 28 points in his Cavalier debut.
Welcome to Virginia, Sylven Landesberg .
Setting a UVa record for most points by a freshman in their debut (28), Landesberg crept his way to a monster night in the Hoos’ opening 107-97 win over VMI on Sunday. In fact, he had one of those lines that will likely be talked about for quite some time. Landesberg tallied 28 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals in a team-leading 36 minutes. The points total surpassed the previous freshman best of Jeff Lamp, who had 24 against JMU in 1977.
Not a bad debut.
“Sylven is obviously a very talented player,” Virginia coach Dave Leitao said. “I think the biggest thing with him is that he showed some poise, some wherewithal that he can make big shots, big plays at big times.”
The win, Virginia’s 24th consecutive over VMI, didn’t come easily for Landesberg and the Cavaliers, though. After exploding to an early 17-point lead, Virginia allowed VMI to sneak back into the game before the score stood tied at 82 with 6:47 left in the second half.
But the Hoos held off the high octane Keydets with some strong play down the stretch. Virginia quickly regained momentum after VMI tied the score and eventually broke out on a 7-2 run highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by Jeff Jones . From there, the Cavaliers never looked back.
Leitao said after the game that VMI’s rare jack-it-up and roll style presented a unique set of challenges to the Cavaliers so he was happy to start the season with a win (something the Hoos have done for 11 straight seasons).
“Very, very difficult style to play against obviously,” Leitao said. “It affected everything that we do. Our line-ups obviously, holding big guys out – it would be very difficult for them to guard on the perimeter. It was a difficult preparation for us to try and getting us ready to kind of go against what we do every day. So I m just glad and fortunate that we won.”
Key to the Cavaliers’ offensive run to take control in the final minutes were the smart passing choices made by Sammy Zeglinski and Landesberg to find Jones. Landesberg was an integral part in the burst with two points and two assists in a little less than three minutes. Perhaps most impressive about Landesberg’s performance, as Leitao pointed out, was the way he handled himself in high-pressure situations, such as when he chose to dump the ball in to Scott on the blocks to kickstart the 7-2 scoring spurt that helped UVa take control of the scoreboard in the final few moments.
Landesberg’s efforts did not go unnoticed by his teammates, either.
“He was unbelievable out there,” Zeglinski said. “The numbers speak for themselves. We really needed him out there and he stepped up big time.”
Ironically enough, to have racked up such an enormous line, Landesberg did it quietly, pushing his teammates forward with him. He didn’t rack up a great deal of flashy plays, but he did help the offense gain balance, not attracting too much defensive pressure toward any one player. As such, Virginia was able to get five players into double figures (Mamadi Diane 14, Jamil Tucker 14, Scott 26, Landesberg 28, and Zeglinski 11).
Sammy Zeglinski netted 11 points and 6 assists Sunday.
Not to be lost in the dazzling stats of Landesberg, however, is Zeglinski. He played his first substantial game with extended minutes Sunday, logging 31 minutes after playing just 62 total in an injury-shortened 2007-08 season; he saw action in only 8 games. In addition to his prominent role in the Cavaliers’ final run, Zeglinski ran the offense with success, battling against VMI’s heavy full-court press for the majority of the game. The redshirt freshman point guard, praised by VMI coach Duggar Baucom after the game for his ball handling, surrendered only 3 turnovers in those 31 minutes of action, a 2-to-1 assist ratio.
“I thought that he managed that a whole lot better as the game was going on,” Leitao said of his young point guard. “Obviously and I keep forgetting, this is really his first big experience in college and its not going to be perfect. We’ve got a lot to clean up with him and with everybody but I was particularly happy with him in the second half when Calvin [Baker] couldn’t go back in that he managed the game the way he did.”
“Zeglinski had a great game from the point guard position,” Baucom said. “He handled our pressure very well. We were able to impose our will more on Friday night than we were today from a pressure stand point. We actually got out of the pressure for a little bit because [Zeglinski] was just dicing us up.”
Baucom, of course, was making reference to VMI’s stunning 111-103 victory over perennial SEC power Kentucky on Friday night. According to Baucom, his team came out a little flat.
“I wasn’t pleased with the way we warmed up today,” he said. “I think maybe we were feeling a little happy about what we’d done and that’s not us. That’s not what we’re about. We’re certainly lunch pail and hard hat kind of guys and if we get on a little bit of cool duty, that’s not us.”
As for Virginia, the Keydets’ win at Kentucky drew some attention in the coaches’ office. Leitao admitted he made line-up changes after seeing VMI eat up the Wildcats’ big men in the early stages of Friday’s game. Leitao said he watched the game live and again during film preparation.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call but win, lose, or draw, I think what we saw out there really raised our eyebrows,” Leitao said. “I thought Kentucky had [Perry] Stevenson and [Patrick] Patterson and they were in the open court a little too much having to make too many decisions [early in that game]. So I thought … that if we went with a small line-up, more ball-handlers, then that would be good.”
So Leitao rolled the dice, announcing that Landesberg would start in place of a center moments before the game.
“I was a little surprised but I was just thinking that this is an opportunity for me so I just went out and took it,” Landesberg said. “I was just thinking I’m going to go out there and be aggressive and play my game and what happens happens.”
For the freshman, his debut couldn’t have been any sweeter, but he knows this is only the beginning.
“It was fun,” Landesberg said. “The energy in the building was ridiculous. I just went out there and played my game. I was looking forward to this and much more. It’s just the first game and one win. I want to get more wins under my belt.”