Tony Bennett’s team won its exhibition game.
The Virginia men’s basketball team won its only preseason exhibition contest Saturday night, topping Roanoke College 82-50 at the John Paul Jones Arena. The tune-up gave UVa a chance to continue its preseason work after a scrimmage at Marquette as the season opener with William & Mary looms on Friday. It also gave fans a chance to see the Cavaliers’ seven freshmen in action for the first time.
The verdict? It was good to get out there for the first time, there were some nerves, and there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be,” post James Johnson said. “I thought as a group, we came together real well given the crowd and all of that, a new aspect for us especially as freshmen coming in. I thought we did well together. There’s still a lot we need to work on obviously, but it was fun.”
“It was pretty cool. We go through JPJ every single day and seeing how massive it is and how nice it is, we’ve been waiting for people to come in here to fill it up. It was pretty cool and exciting to run out and have all the people out here supporting us,” forward Joe Harris said. “The first month, including the practices and the scrimmage and exhibition games, I know we need to work on a lot of things that Coach has been stressing. Primarily defense.”
Youngsters or veterans aside, it is not surprising that coach Tony Bennett has been stressing defense and taking care of the basketball. After all, the foundation of the program is being built on strong defense and sound turnover-limiting offense. As should be expected with any early season games, there were some hiccups in those areas but overall there were encouraging signs as well.
On the difficulties side of things, for example, UVa gave up some backdoor cuts into the paint and some direct drives toward the rim. The Cavaliers also had 16 turnovers, including 4 each combined from point guards Jontel Evans and Billy Baron . On the positive end, for example, the Hoos did a nice job of closing out on shooters (RC made just 5 of 19 triples) and communicating. The PGs also bounced back from 6 first-half turnovers to have just 2 in the second half.
“We are not going to have a good post game until we are playing somebody our own size inside. We want to get a lot more post play but they did a good job covering threes. They made it tough. It was fantastic for us to get even a couple backline scores with the way they play Pack-line defense. I think a lot of it had to with the fact that they wanted to take it to us,” Roanoke coach Page Moir said. “They did a very good job on Melvin Felix who is a very good Division III player. I could tell from the get go that Virginia had looked at his stats from last year. I think that UVa smothered us early – that’s what good coaches and good teams do.”
“This week leading into William & Mary, we’re going to be pressing on some things we didn’t do so well. Like when we came back from Marquette, we didn’t do so well with transition defense. Today, I don’t think we did as well in the halfcourt; we gave up a lot of back-cuts, straight-line drives, that kind of thing so this week in practice, I know that we’re going to get after it and work on a lot of the little things that coaches stresses every single day. We’ve got to get sharper on that end,” Harris said. “Coach was saying after the game that shouldn’t happen, especially in our defense. We kind of got away from our principles a little bit and we weren’t necessarily focusing, but this is all part of the learning experience. We’re going to learn from this game.”
One thing the Cavaliers can take from the game is something they learned in Kindergarten: sharing is good. The Hoos had 19 assists on 28 baskets, leading to a very balanced effort offensively. Mike Scott led the way with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal. Harris and fellow freshman KT Harrell each added 10 points as well. Mustapha Farrakhan (9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists), Assane Sene (8 points 5 rebounds, 3 blocks), Evans (7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals), Baron (6 points, 4 assists), Will Regan (6 points, 3 rebounds), and Johnson (5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) all contributed between 5 and 10 points to the scorebook as well.
With a chance to see varying combinations and line-ups in front of a crowd for the first time with this team, UVa coach Tony Bennett will keep a watchful eye on the progress of the process as the season opener approaches.
“I think we will have balance, whether that be three or four guys in double figures. I think they will share the ball well this year and are not afraid to make the extra pass. I think our balance will be key this year,” Bennett said. “I thought our turnovers cost us early. But I liked that I got to get a look at everybody in a different setting. We obviously have a long way to go and it is a process, but I think I got a great look at some guys. There were moments when they strung together some good basketball and there were some moments that we will have to learn from.”