Mike Scott starred against Oklahoma with 27 points and 15 boards.
Lose the game, but don’t lose the lesson – ESPN color analyst Jimmy Dykes had that to say about early season tournament losses for college basketball teams. Virginia took that nugget of wisdom to heart on Tuesday in the EA SPORTS Maui Invitational. Less than 20 hours after a humbling first-round loss to Washington, the Cavaliers jumped on Oklahoma early and pulled away to a 74-56 victory.
For the Hoos, the effort against the Sooners proved to be the polar opposite of the loss to the Huskies on Monday. In that 106-63 loss, Virginia coach Tony Bennett thought his team did not defend with competitive vigor and failed to value possessions on offense with turnovers and quick shots. As a result, the Cavaliers had a pair of disappointing No. 17’s – 17 3-pointers allowed and 17 turnovers committed. In the 18-point win against Oklahoma, they allowed just 6 3-pointers and committed just 9 turnovers.
The Hoos’ change in defensive attitude and approach was evident from the tip-off. They led 12-0 and 16-2 in the opening minutes thanks to a strong start on both ends of the floor. Jontel Evans stole the ball in the passing lane and scored on the other end for a 2-0 UVa lead. On the next trip, Will Sherrill got a steal and Mike Scott scored on a pair of free throws, a theme that held throughout the game, on the offensive side for a 4-0 start. After another Oklahoma turnover, Scott passed out of a double team to a cutting Evans and he pitched it back to Sherrill who canned a 3-pointer. That made it 7-0 and the Cavs never trailed.
“We just talked about especially our defensive breakdowns, our transition really killed us. It killed us in basically all parts of the game. As a captain I needed to step up, other players needed to step up and we just had to have a short memory,” Scott said of his team’s turnaround from the Washington game. “We came out the first five minutes of the first half with guns blazing on offense and defense.”
The positive response to adversity pleased Bennett.
“I didn’t know how we would respond after getting handled last night and with a quick turnaround,” Bennett said. “I just challenged the guys. I said I know there’s character on this team. Forget about winning or losing, let’s try to get back to what we do.”
The Hoos showed plenty of character against the Sooners and leading the night-and-day turnaround Tuesday was Scott, who arguably had the best game of his Cavalier career. One night after posting 11 points, 4 rebounds, and just 1 free throw attempt while stuck in the malaise of a team-wide night of inconsistency against Washington, Scott dominated against Oklahoma. Scott poured in a career-high 27 points on 7-of-15 shooting and added a game-high 15 rebounds. The senior had 9 more boards than any other player on the floor and had secured the double-double with more than 15 minutes remaining in the game.
More impressive than the stat line, though, is how Scott went about posting the numbers. Active from the start, the UVa forward crashed the glass on both ends without pause. Around the rim, he sought out contact and was awarded with a career-high 15 free-throw attempts; he made 13 freebies for nearly half of his scoring total. In the screening game, he made better contact and then found space quickly, which led to some easy shots near the paint as well as some outside face-up looks as well.
On top of all of that, Scott also made his teammates better. Though credited with only 2 assists, Scott’s decision-making and passing in the face of OU double teams led to plenty of open looks for the Virginia offense. The perfect example of his impact came near the 15:00 mark of the second half. The Cavaliers ran some offensive action to get Scott a post touch on the right block (if you’re facing the basket) and the Sooners immediately decided to double off of Evans, not a surprising strategy considering teams’ success with that last season. Scott creates some space away from the double team and fires a diagonal pass to Evans, forcing the Oklahoma defense to rotate up with Joe Harris ‘ defender. Evans quickly made the extra pass out to Harris, who flashed out to the left corner – the next rotation had to come from Sherrill’s defender and he was too late to offer a strong contest. Harris, 3-ball, corner pocket and UVa led 48-33.
“We certainly got sped up against Washington. We were very impatient offensively and we shot quickly, didn’t get back, and didn’t make them work. We tried to establish that. A different opponent, I understand that, but I was proud of the way the guys responded today, especially Mike,” Bennett said. “I thought there was a level of composure when they made a run in the game and cut it to eight in the second half. We responded and I like that the guys showed heart. We made it harder for them to score and Mike was certainly a mismatch inside. He did a great job passing out of the post when they collapsed on him.”
Jontel Evans posted 6 assists with 0 turnovers.
Virginia’s other senior captains got in on the recovery act too. Sherrill had 11 points on the strength of 3 3-pointers and added 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists. Mustapha Farrakhan , who came off the bench, made 5 of 7 shots to finish with 10 points; he added 3 assists and 2 steals. Not to be outdone, Evans bounced back from a 6-turnover night against the Huskies with a 6-assist night against the Sooners; he had 0 turnovers. Evans added 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals as well.
For the Cavalier freshmen, meanwhile, Harris had 8 points and Billy Baron added 7.
Now the Hoos have the challenge of bouncing back from success on a short timetable. On the Maui Invitational’s final day Wednesday, Virginia faces Wichita State at 7:30 p.m. Bennett hopes his team is prepared to face the Shockers, a well-rounded and experienced group.
“I know they’re a veteran team, they’re big, they shoot it well and they’re complete. They’ll be a great challenge. I think with an experienced team like that, similar to Washington in completeness, it’ll be another test for us not to get sped up. I thought we showed patience today that helped us get more touches to Mike inside,” Bennett said. “I saw how physical they were so it will be a great experience for our young guys and for Mike. We’ll have to be ready. I feel like we’ve got a long time to prepare now that we have 24 hours as opposed to 12. Hopefully that will help us.”