Coach Tony Bennett
Clang, clang, clang. Cavalier coach Tony Bennett will be hearing the sound of missed shots hitting the rim in his sleep tonight. Virginia defeated in-state foe Radford 54-44 at home Tuesday night, despite only shooting 27.7% from the field. The Hoos survived a 13:08 shooting drought in the second half and depended heavily on stingy defense to pull out the win.
“We’ll probably have to repaint the rims after that game,” Bennett said. “We got some good looks, but we were certainly very cold and had some struggles. We said, ‘Hey you’re going to have to win ugly in this game.'”
Ugly doesn’t even begin to cover it. Virginia has had a tendency this season of starting slow and then picking up speed in the second half, and it certainly seemed that way at first. The Hoos went on a 22-0 scoring run that spanned the end of the first half into the second, holding the Highlanders scoreless for a total of 14:45. However, Bennett’s squad scored a total of four field goals in the second half, and just couldn’t seem to find the basket. UVa’s final shooting percentage tied the 15th worst mark in program history and was the worst since 2005. The four-bucket second half was the worst since January of 2009.
“We look at our shooting percentage and obviously that was very poor, but they were struggling to shoot as well,” Bennett said. “You look at the second half, and there weren’t a lot of field goals being made by either team until they took a run late. I credit them; they did a good job of jamming us up offensively. More than a little bit; a lot bit.”
Cavalier forward Mike Scott recorded another double-double, but his play lacked much of the sparkle seen in recent weeks. Scott was 1-7 from the field, but made eight free throws. His 13 rebounds were a blessing, but he turned the ball over six times. Fans had come to expect more from Scott following his ACC Player of the Week performances against Minnesota and Virginia Tech. Still, Scott also contributed two of Virginia’s season-high seven blocked shots to finish with a solid stat line.
The offensive stars of the night were freshmen Joe Harris and KT Harrell. Harrell was a perfect 5-5 coming off the bench in the first half with three baskets coming from 3-point land.
“I took focused shots and my teammates happened to find me when I was open. I made sure I was staying aggressive and took energy from off the bench,” Harrell said. “It really doesn’t matter to me if I start or come off the bench. I’m going to provide the energy that’s needed when I’m on the floor no matter if I’m starting or coming off the bench.”
Harris took the coaching staff’s message of “shoot aggressively” to heart, and finished the game with 14 points, nine of them from beyond the arc. He also had one block and two steals. Upperclassmen Mustapha Farrakhan and Mike Scott were a perfect 16-16 from the charity stripe and had major contributions on defense.
The Cavaliers seemed to struggle against Radford’s zone defensive scheme, and were forcing baskets and taking contested shots rather than finding the open look. Virginia was cold in the paint, and unable to find a shooting rhythm.
“I feel like we were a little indecisive sometimes on the zone,” Farrakhan said. “The coaches kept telling us ‘be aggressive and attack the gaps.’ We did it a couple of times, but it just wasn’t on a consistent basis.”
UVa’s Joe Harris contributed 14 points in the win.
One of the bright spots of the evening was a Radford possession in which Virginia blocked three straight Highlander shots. Sene swatted away the first two (he finished the night with three total, in addition to seven rebounds), and Farrakhan got the third. “That was pretty fun,” Farrakhan said. “Assane had already done a good job of contesting a lot of shots down low, and once I saw him block those two and there were five seconds on the clock, I was thinking ‘Whenever they shoot it, I’m going to block it too.’ It just worked out that way, and that’s the type of aggressiveness we need.”
The Hoos’ defensive play definitely kept them in the game as they withstood a late Radford rally, but the lack of success on offense seemed to take its toll at the other end of the court. The visitors started getting more shots inside and had decent penetration. Once things on offense started to slide, with the poor decision-making and the inability to make a shot, the defensive end started to break down; players weren’t helping one another, and the Highlanders started taking more shots.
“You’re not going to shoot the basketball well every game. But you can’t let it affect you defensively, and I think that’s what happened to us,” Harrell said. “We let the poor shooting affect us defensively, and that’s why they were so close in the game.”
Virginia enters a 10-day layoff, in which the players will take final exams and the coaching staff will examine exactly what went wrong on Tuesday night. Bennett has plans to work on specific skill sets this week as the players focus on academics.
“We’ll take a day or two to maybe work on skill development, maybe work on some shooting a little bit,” Bennett quipped. “That might be a good idea.”