Lopsided. In every sense of the word, Virginia’s season-opening men’s basketball game featured an overmatched South Carolina State team. The contest resulted in a 75-38 win for the Cavaliers, the largest margin of victory for the program in the Tony Bennett era and the biggest win since a 94-52 triumph against Northwestern on Nov. 27, 2007.
In other words, the contest fit the season-opening mold. Some good things, some things to work on, and general excitement to be in action.
“It felt good. We’ve been working all summer, all preseason, scrimmages, beating each other up in practices so it finally feels good to play somebody else and to execute on defense like we did,” said UVa senior Mike Scott, who had 8 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. “At the end of the first half, we let up on them a little bit. I told the team when we get back for the second half, keep that knockout punch [mindset], just keep pressure on them, and try to take them out of the game and we basically did that in the second half.”
The Hoos had to deal with some wrinkles in the game that will carry forward. SCS defensively used man to man, a matchup zone, a version of a box-and-one on Joe Harris , and a 2-2-1 or box press. Offensively, the Bulldogs threw some dribble drive and screening actions into the mix. All in all, Virginia dealt with those things effectively. The hosts held South Carolina State to 25.5% shooting, while making 49.0% of their shots on offense. In addition to Scott’s line, it was a balanced afternoon for the Hoos. Harris had 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. KT Harrell added 13 points (he hit three straight triples to open the second half), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. Akil Mitchell had 8 points, Assane Sene added 7 points and 5 rebounds, and Jontel Evans chipped in 8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 block. Freshman Malcolm Brogdon had 9 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 1 steal while redshirt freshman James Johnson provide 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist.
Cavalier coach Tony Bennett saw some positive things in the opener when it came to sustained effort and attention to details.
“I think we worked hard in our preseason and I think those scrimmages were valuable for us and they’ve been competitive in terms of going against each other. There’s been a high level of fire in their bellies, I guess I’d say when we’ve practiced. The intensity has been really good. So I was kind of curious, now you’re in front of people, you battle some butterflies and some nerves, will they bring that kind of tenacity that’s going to be required,” Bennett said. “I thought they did a good job with that for the most part. [We] missed some early shots and all of that, I think we were nervous in that, but our rotations defensively were good and they understand how we have to play to be good this year.”
Of course, the lopsided result was expected against an outmatched opponent early in the season. What many fans wanted to see, however, was the debuts of some of the Cavaliers, in particular Brogdon and Johnson.
UVa’s Malcolm Brogdon posted 9 points and 4 assists.
Brogdon checked in as the first guard substitute (Harris, Harrell, and Evans started the game while Sammy Zeglinski sat out while still recovering from an ankle injury) and looked comfortable in 22 minutes of playing time. He alternated between the wing and the point guard – or lead guard – slot with little noticeable drop-off in his play at either position.
Brogdon’s potential as a key contributor is evident. For example, he threw an outstanding diagonal pass against State’s zone that resulted in a dunk for Assane Sene , dropped off a pass to Akil Mitchell that earned two free throw attempts, and hit a pull-up 3-pointer on a screen-and-roll play all in the second half. Overall, he appears to play the game under control with a very good first step off the bounce. Of course, the typical freshman bug-a-boos (securing the ball on a defensive rebound, forcing a pass on screen-and-roll, and those sorts of things) need to be ironed out, but it wasn’t a bad way to start to a career.
“I felt OK about how I played. I definitely think there’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m just glad we got the win, I really am. We got a good victory and I think we played well,” Brogdon said. “I try to get my teammates involved, I really do, especially when I’m playing point guard. If my shot is there, I’ll take it, but when I get inside, I’m trying to look for the big man if I can hand it off or dish it off.”
Johnson, meanwhile, checked into the game as the fourth post player (Scott and Sene started with Mitchell subbing in first). Noted for having a high motor and activity level during his redshirt season with the team, Johnson showed that energetic trait in his first live action in the John Paul Jones Arena. Johnson, for example, earned six free throw attempts in the final four minutes of the half and quickly put four points on the board. He also had a kickout pass to Harris for a 3-pointer against the zone in his first few minutes on the floor.
Virginia’s James Johnson added 6 points and 3 rebounds.
Johnson, who had to check out for a few minutes in the second half after getting hit in the head, runs the floor well, stays involved on both ends, and is a willing screener. He made himself available for passes after screens and appeared committed to the little details during this time on the floor. There are some things to work on of course (getting caught in the flow on defense instead of sliding to your next spot, finding space consistently on offense, and an errant outlet pass late for example), but he too had a good first outing.
“James did some good things. As he continues to play, I think he’ll get better. He’s aggressive and rugged. He got his first stitches or a cut so he’s into the action,” Bennett said. “He did some good things, got to the line, and, again, I think the more James can get in those situations and get the reactions a little quicker and get used to the game speed, he’ll get better and better. I keep thinking long range with these young guys because I know they have to get the experience, but what they’ll be two months from now, a year from now is going to be good so I just keep encouraging them, challenging them, and holding them accountable. Again, I was really on those young guys at the end to not let up with what we’re trying to execute and what we’re trying to do.”
Another pair of freshmen, Darion Atkins and Paul Jesperson , did not play. Atkins is out for the first three games for violating team rules, Bennett said, while the plan right now is to redshirt Jesperson.
“Right now with Paul Jesperson , the plan is to redshirt Paul. He’s coming along nicely in practice and I like his upside, but assuming there’s not an injury anywhere or unless he just develops real quick, I think the redshirt right now is a real good idea for him and he’s in agreement with that,” Bennett said. “Darion will not play in the first three games for violating team rules and that’s all I’ll say about that, but that’s why Darion didn’t get in this game.”