Hoos Eke Out Win Against Radford

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Sylven Landesberg knocked down two clutch free throws to lift the Cavaliers to a win.

The Cavaliers’ state-flavored introduction to the 2008-09 men’s basketball season certainly has not been devoid of drama. First, the VMI Keydets brought a run-and-gun spice to the John Paul Jones Arena and then Radford followed with a pinch of post-powered seasoning on Friday night. Fortunately for Virginia, it escaped the most recent contest without the proverbial bad taste it its mouth, defeating the visiting Highlanders 68-66 to improve to 3-0 on the season.

“This time of year there are a lot of games that on paper one team has an advantage, either by age or skill or conference. I pointed that out to the team the other day, when I saw that Mercer had beaten Auburn. That is the last thing I want to do – and we’ve been fortunate in three-plus years here that we haven’t lost to teams that we probably should beat,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “By chance today, we made a play or two at the end or they didn’t execute a play or two at the end, and we were fortunate to win.”

Radford definitely provided a stiff test for the ACC’s Cavaliers. RU led 29-27 at intermission while outrebounding the Hoos by 8. Leitao said his halftime talk focused on motivation and passion.

“Rebounding was just one of the [issues.] We were emphasizing passion and playing the game the right way,” Leitao said. “Yeah, we talked about getting beat on the offensive glass … but it wasn’t the only thing. I didn’t spend a ton of time talking about it at halftime. It was more an overall motivational kind of speech than it was just on one particular part of the game.”

The Cavaliers got enough of the message to pull out the victory in the end. But they wouldn’t have survived this in-state slugfest without freshman Sylven Landesberg . The New York native delivered another 20-plus point performance, the third of his three-game career. He poured in 22 points against Radford, including 18 after halftime; he also added 4 rebounds and 1 steal.

RU coach Brad Greenberg noted Landesberg as a key factor in the outcome. Greenberg said Landesberg kept getting into the middle of Radford’s defense, particularly when the visitors were showing a 1-3-1 trapping zone.

“I think the only difference in the game was Landsberg’s ability to get into the middle in the second half. He was the key to their offense and we could not keep him from getting into the middle of the court. That was the difference in the game,” Greenberg said. “In the last few minutes, their best player was able to make most of the plays. That’s what happens in games that are close.”

“Sylven, right now for good, for bad, for indifferent, is oblivious. He just plays basketball. He’s not really affected by anything – at least not yet. I think because he is naturally an attacker, he challenges the defense. He finds openings,” Leitao said. “It has allowed him to get to the rim, it has allowed him to gain confidence. It has allowed him to just play the game. He does a number of things well. He’s got a number of things he’s got to learn and grow with, like every young guy. At the very least, he’s got the right frame of mind right now. It’s allowing him to play well this early in the season.”

Landesberg’s ability to get into the teeth of the Highlanders’ defense was evident in the final 30 seconds. He drove hard into the lane and drew enough contact for a whistle, a common sound in the second half when players from both teams combined for 30 fouls. Trailing 66-65 at the time, Landesberg stepped to the line in similar situation to Wednesday’s South Florida game when he made 1 of 2 free throws, leaving the door open for a 3-pointer to beat the Cavs. On Friday, he calmly knocked down both freebies to give his team the 67-66 lead and the eventual win.

Landesberg said he was trying to be more aggressive in the second half, something that clearly showed on the move to the basket that led to the game-winning free throws.

“I felt in the first half I wasn’t being aggressive. The whole team, I don’t think we were aggressive at all. We didn’t come out hard like we’ve been the last few games so that’s what really kept them in the game. I think if we had come out the same way as we did in the second half in the first half, it would have been a different game,” Landesberg said. “Coming into the second half, I had a different mindset. I was like, ‘There’s no way we were going to lose this game.’ So I’m going to do whatever we have to do and I’m going to help the team – capture the ball, rebounding, playing defense – do whatever I have to do to win this game because I didn’t want to lose.”

Tunji Soroye had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks on Friday night.

But Landesberg wasn’t the only one being more aggressive in the second half. The Cavaliers as a whole seemed to find at least a little bit of the fervor that Leitao had wanted. Look no further than the rebounding totals for statistical evidence of that fact. After trailing 24-16 on the glass at intermission, Virginia rallied to win the backboard battle 43-40 by the end of the game. That’s a difference of plus 11.

Leading the glass-cleaning effort in the second half was Jamil Tucker , who had trouble even boxing out much less rebounding in the first half. His reward? A 5-minute line. In the second half, however, Tucker pulled down 6 rebounds in 16 minutes.

Tucker’s half dozen rebounds led the team in the category, but he had plenty of help as five Cavaliers had at least 4 boards. Notably, senior center Tunji Soroye hauled in 5 rebounds as part of a very solid night at center. Soroye played 24 minutes and posted 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks; all of his points came in the first half with the other Hoos struggling to find much production.

Soroye also contributed a key play on the defensive end in the final 30 seconds. After Landesberg’s free throws gave Virginia the lead, Radford rushed down court without using a timeout and drove to the baseline for a potential go-ahead shot. Soroye managed to slide over and crowd the space; the shot bounced away and UVa prevailed.

“I’m not really satisfied with the way I played tonight. I haven’t played in a year, so I’m just getting back in the groove,” Soroye said. “With time, I’ll be better. We have a lot of young guys who don’t really know what it’s about yet. With time, we’ll be fine. The team has a lot of passion, they just don’t know how to display it on the court.”

“He got a little winded a few times, got a little careless and fouled a couple of times too many, but he could match size for size,” Leitao said. “He was aggressive early, particularly on offense and played bigger and clogged the middle a little bit more. I’d like to see him play that way for longer stretches because I think his size and bulk is necessary to our team defense. I thought he did a decent job but there’s still a whole lot of room for him to grow.”

Box Score

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