UVa’s Mike Scott finished with 18 points in the win.
Four players in double figures. Five players with at least one 3-pointer. 17 assists on 28 field goals. Only 8 turnovers. An opponent below 40% shooting. In the end, the Virginia men’s basketball team opened its season in impressive fashion and pulled away from visiting William and Mary in the second half of a 76-52 victory Friday night. UVa led by one at intermission before dominating the final 20 minutes in front of 10,003 happy John Paul Jones Arena fans.
For Virginia coach Tony Bennett and his veteran players, two numbers quickly jumped off the stat sheet in the season-opening win. First, the Hoos had 17 assists on 28 field goals, which is a near carbon copy of the exhibition game with Roanoke College. The Cavaliers had 19 assists on 28 field goals in that one last weekend. Sharing the ball like that allows several players to get involved offensively.
“What was reaffirmed is they share the ball. They’re an unselfish group,” Bennett said. “Hard opponent to play with their system with the Princeton back cuts and their ability to stretch it. The first half showed that. I saw guys sharing the ball and saw them defend a little better in the second half.”
Senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan , one of the beneficiaries of the move-the-ball commitment on this team, said this group is like that in practice too. Farrakhan finished with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. The other Hoos in double figures were Billy Baron (19), Mike Scott (18) and KT Harrell (13).
“I’m proud of the team effort today,” Farrakhan said. “We definitely do that in practice so we just try to stay consistent in what we do. If it’s there, take it. If not, just rotate the ball and give it to the open man.”
Fellow senior Scott was happy with a different number on the stat sheet, though. The Tribe shot just 37.5% for the game, including a rocky 26.9% from 3-point range. For a team with a determined offensive style and capable shooters at multiple positions, that’s a good night at the office defensively.
“Defending them the way we did the second half is definitely good for us,” Scott said. “That’s definitely a good night. That’s a great night. Especially a team like that that shoots the ball good and everyone can shoot, that’s definitely a good night.”
Of course, with it being the Hoos’ opening game of the season, many fans were anxious to see the Cavaliers’ true freshmen in real game action as much as the final stats. Baron, the last of the six scholarship freshmen to join the incoming recruiting class, stole the show. With a behind-the-head release reminiscent of Larry Bird, Baron lit up the JPJ nets on Friday to record 19 points in the first contest of his Cavalier career. The postgrad commit hit 5 of 6 3-pointers in the game from a variety of spots on the floor.
Freshman Billy Baron scored a team-high 19 points, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
After hitting back-to-back triples during a key run in the first half, Baron really got going after intermission. He drained one from the right wing when fellow point guard Jontel Evans drew the defense in unsettled transition mode and added another from just to the right of the top of the key on another assist from Evans, who appeared giddy watching Baron’s hot shooting hand; he finished with a career-high 7 assists. On the one near the top of the key, Baron rubbed his defender off of a flare screen from Assane Sene and let it fly from a step or more beyond the arc. Add in a steal and lay-up and a pair of free throws courtesy of a strong drive and it was indeed a good night for the Rhode Island native.
“It feels great. Since I got here June 12, I’ve just been itching to get on the court. Practicing every day, going against Jontel every single day, that’s really been fun. He’s really prepared me for this moment and I’m just grateful to be in this position,” Baron said. “Just having confidence. When I talked to my brother before this, he’s playing over in Spain, he gave me a lot of confidence. My father and my mother, just having the support from them. The game is all about confidence, basically the mental part of it.”
Scott, a team captain, said he had been giving Baron a hard time about matching the shooting prowess of his brother Jimmy, now a professional hoopster in Spain. So much for that on this night.
“Billy, man, he shot the ball incredible tonight. I was joking on him and saying he’d never be able to shoot better than his brother Jimmy Baron. He must have took that to heart because he definitely shut me up. I can’t really say nothing to him no more. I’ve got to tell Sammy [Zeglinski] that I think Billy is a better shooter now and see if I can get a little rivalry going,” Scott said with a wide grin. “No, Billy did good especially for a freshman to come out in his first game and shoot the way he did. He definitely proved himself.”
Of course, Scott was the guy that got the Hoos going in the second half initially. With a clear intention to get interior touches in the second half, Virginia fed Scott down low where he delivered. Scott posted 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting and made 4 of 5 shots after halftime; he also knocked down 3 of 4 free throws in the second half. Scott also had 9 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal. That inside presence, along with the sharp-shooting perimeter play from the Cavs (12 of 23 on 3-pointers in the game), helped loosen up the Tribe zone and eventually forced them to play some man-to-man defense later in the half.
“I was glad to see Mike Scott too. He missed some bunnies early, then he established himself as the game wore on,” Bennett said.
The Cavaliers are going to need consistent nights like that from Scott even more so than first expected this season with the planned redshirting of freshman James Johnson . The rugged post player missed some time in the preseason with an ankle injury and after the coaches talked it over with Johnson, they all feel like the best move for him and the program is to give him a development year in 2010-2011. That, of course, spaces out the scholarships of the six-person class and could pay huge dividends if Johnson’s fifth year materializes in a way that his potential suggests is possible.
“James and I talked about that and we feel like that’s probably in the best interest for him. He could help us, certainly could, he’s rugged, but in talking to James, the plan right now is for him to redshirt,” Bennett said. “Like I said, I think he could help us because he’s a rugged body and you guys know how the games will get and the physicality on the glass, but there will be other opportunities for people. James feels very comfortable with it. We sat and talked. It’s always what’s best for the player and what’s best for the program in especially the long range. Hard decision because I see some value, but I also see the value of him getting strong, developing, and getting comfortable. He approached me about it, we worked through it, and that’s kind of where it is right now.”