Senior Mustapha Farrakhan tied a Virginia record by making 8 straight 3-pointers.
Led by senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan ‘s 31-point performance, the Cavaliers continued their positive play and delivered a convincing win over Howard University to close out their non-conference schedule. Virginia struggled earlier this season against lesser opponents, and took some time getting up to speed against the Bison, but eventually handled Howard 84-63 at home on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers shot a season-best 66.7% from the field, the fifth best shooting performance in program history and the best outing in 25 years (67.6% vs. Virginia Tech in 1985).
Farrakhan was the story of the night, tying Harold Deane’s school record of 8 consecutive 3-pointers. He came off the bench late in the second half to go for No. 9, trying to tie Curtis Staples’ single-game record, but his last shot of the game turned out to be the only one he missed. Overall, the senior had 11 consecutive baskets from the field. Farrakhan electrified the sparse John Paul Jones Arena crowd, and earned several standing ovations from the home audience while leaving the Howard contingency stunned.
“What was it – his birthday or something?” Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry said. “I have played against Virginia many times as a head coach at Hampton for a number of years and as an assistant at Clemson – this is probably the best shooting display by a Cavalier in a long time.”
Farrakhan’s shooting touch sparked Virginia in the first half as the Cavaliers surged ahead to take the lead from the Bison and maintain it for the rest of the night. In the first half, Virginia shot an astounding 76.2%. Farrakhan was only 2-6 in the previous contest against LSU, but stepped up his shooting Tuesday in the continued absence of team leader Mike Scott. This marks the first 30-point game of the senior’s career.
“Well first, let’s give credit to a lefty when credit is due. He was really rolling and had rhythm. You know that feeling when the rim looks that big and it was nice to see,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That was an impressive shooting performance by Mustapha.”
Along with Farrakhan, other veteran players increased their production in Scott’s absence. Junior center Assane Sene was a presence under the basket, ripping down five rebounds and going 4-4 from the field en route to a career-high 9 points. Sophomore Jontel Evans turned into an assist machine. Although he finished the night with no baskets, he posted a career-best 10 assists and three steals. Evans has a nose for the ball and he displayed exceptional touch on his passes in this one.
The treys were raining from all over the court on Tuesday, from both Cavaliers and Bison alike. Howard’s biggest offensive weapon was their ability to shoot the 3, and the Bison eagerly took advantage of UVa’s defensive scheme. Sophomore forward Dadrian Collins contributed five 3-pointers for Howard, and teammate Anton Dickerson added three more. For UVa, Sammy Zeglinski had two 3’s, while freshman Joe Harris was 5-6 from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers were 16-25 from 3-point land, and the improvement from Sunday’s night’s game against LSU is staggering; against the Tigers, Virginia was only 2-20 from outside.
Freshman Joe Harris had his sixth career game in double figures.
Harris was the unsung hero of the night, contributing 16 points as well as two steals.
“Defensively, [Mike Phillips ] got off to a good start so I kind of got on to Joe, but Joe had a nice rhythm on his shot. It would be kind of nice if when we’re really cold if one guy would be hot, but they all decided to come tonight, which is okay,” Bennett said. “They’re a group and they’re unified; when they’re cold, they’re cold and when they’re hot, they’re hot. Hopefully we can change that, but Joe certainly shot the ball well and again. I think it was a result of feet-set, rhythm shots.”
Bennett is frequently using multiple freshmen at one time on the court; at times, there were as many as four freshmen out there against Howard. Even walk-on freshman Thomas Rogers saw time, marking his fourth appearance of the season. Akil Mitchell and KT Harrell also had decent showings against Howard. Harrell had 14 points and, along with Farrakhan, played the most minutes of the Cavaliers. Mitchell matched up well against Howard’s Mike Phillips defensively, and had a career-high three steals along with two baskets. Mitchell’s defensive presence is invaluable in Scott’s absence, and he even added a monster dunk for good measure.
In only his third game back from injury, senior forward Will Sherrill left the game in obvious discomfort after an incidental collision on the court early in the first half. Although he remained on the bench throughout the game he did not return to the action, nursing that injured lower right leg.
“He said he got kicked on the shin on or near the spot and it was probably like a jolt for him and it really bothered him,” Bennett said. “In warm-ups he said it wasn’t feeling as good but said he would give it a go and hopefully that thing will start healing because he’s not moving so good. I think the three games in a condensed amount of time affected that.”
Virginia seems to be finding its rhythm the past two games even with two of its senior leaders hobbled. Fans can only hope that the Hoos’ hot shooting carries over to the game against North Carolina on Saturday.