Mike Scott made all six of his free throws to lead UVa to a win against Winthrop.
Virginia struggled from 3-point range for most of the night, but set a new record at the free throw line to dispatch visiting Winthrop on Tuesday, 69-48. The Cavaliers made 19 of 19 free throws in the 21-point win, eclipsing the previous program record for most free throws in a perfect game. UVa made all 16 attempts in a 64-60 loss to South Carolina on Jan. 8, 1965.
Not that the players noticed at the time. Both Mike Scott, who went 6 for 6 at the stripe, and Akil Mitchell said after the game that they didn’t know the team was perfect at the charity stripe late in the game.
“No, I didn’t know that,” Mitchell said. “That’s nice. I didn’t know that. That’s really good.”
The Hoos (2-0) needed those free throws thanks to a long stretch of cold shooting in the first half when the Eagles (0-2) swapped to a 2-3/1-1-3 matchup zone and slowed down what had been a hot start. The Cavaliers built leads of 4-0, 9-3, 13-6, and 17-8 in the first 10 minutes before struggling to knock down any shots consistently. That allowed the visitors to climb back into the game by halftime and Winthrop eventually took a 44-41 lead with 10:30 to play.
“I’m a man to man kind of guy. You know Coach Bennett and I coached against each other in the [NCAA] Tournament four years ago. I think I know him pretty well and I think he knows me pretty well because we’re both hard heads. I had to make adjustments early on. I thought the zone, it gave us a better chance quite honestly,” Eagles coach Randy Peele said. “I felt like they had to work harder for baskets when I went to the zone. But he’s got a fabulous team, I love the way they share the ball. Defensively, I love the way they close after the ball, they get the gaps, and penetration, and the biggest complement I can say about his team is that they don’t beat themselves. I think that’s huge.”
For the final 10 minutes of the first half, the Cavaliers froze against that zone, which was fairly similar to South Carolina State’s version that caused no problems Sunday, with stagnant ball and player movement. Once they fell out of rhythm, the Hoos seemed to force the issue by settling for some jump shots that could have become better opportunities.
The coaches addressed those issues at the half.
“I thought it made us tentative in the first half. We were real stagnant on the perimeter, and we just sort of played Ring Around The Rosie. We didn’t get paint touches,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “At halftime that was our message. We said, whether it’s a pass with the high post or low post or moving the ball and punching it off the dribble, we needed to get paint touches. We needed to have some assertiveness.”
“We just tried to attack the gaps. Sometimes I needed to stay low and then flash up,” Scott said about cutting behind the zone after the rotation instead of with the zone. “If I’m just sitting in the middle, of course they’re going to just put a guy right in the middle and it’s going to be easy for them to guard. If I just flashed to the middle a couple of times during the possession then the guards could attack the gaps.”
The competitive contest continued through the first 10 minutes of the second half as the Eagles made some tough shots to keep things close and take the lead, but by that time Virginia had started to take advantage of the halftime adjustments. The ball moved side to side, guards attacked the gaps on the dribble, and players better timed their cuts to the openings in the paint.
The improved plan of attack paid dividends on two possessions that bracketed a steal and layup in transition. KT Harrell was heavily involved in all three baskets. On the possession after Winthrop took the 44-41 lead, Harrell caught the ball reversal pass and attacked the paint from the right wing. That collapsed the zone and he fired the ball out to Malcolm Brogdon in the left corner for a 3-pointer to tie the score. On the defensive end, Brogdon got a steal and started the fastbreak where he returned the assist favor to Harrell for a layup. After another stop on defense, the Cavaliers looked for early offense before the zone could get settled. Harrell again triggered the action with a drive into the paint and tossed the ball back to Joe Harris trailing to a spot on the right wing. Harris drained the 3-ball for a 49-44 UVa lead. Those two triples helped Virginia go 5 of 11 from behind the arch after halftime, but the hosts made just 6 of 18 overall.
Jontel Evans poured in a career-high 17 points.
That 8-0 burst in 1:03 erased Winthrop’s largest lead of the game and eventually propelled the Hoos to the comfortable final margin.
“That was huge. Obviously the momentum and the crowd really got into after those two big shots,” Harris said. “I felt like the momentum carried over to the defensive end too and that’s where we really picked it up. We really got tough and Winthrop took some really tough shots and we didn’t let them get any offensive rebounds.”
While Harrell and Harris played a big role in that critical run, a trio of veterans provided the punch for much of the night, including numerous buckets at key times. Scott led all scorers with 18 points on an efficient 6-of-9 shooting night; he added 8 rebounds and 1 block. Center Assane Sene made 3 of 4 shots and 4 of 4 free throws for 10 points to go with 3 rebounds and 1 block.
Starting guard Jontel Evans made 5 of 6 shots (2 of 3 treys) and 5 of 5 free throws to post a career-high 17 points. Evans had an assist and a steal too. Evans fought off foul trouble in the first half, when he had just 3 points, to provide a big spark after intermission. The junior’s second half highlights included a corner 3-pointer plus a sky-high offensive rebound and stickback that energized the Hoos.
“Jontel you can always count on to bring the defensive edge and the spark for the rest of the team,” Harris said. “For him to play as well offensively as he was today, that’s great and you just expect it for the rest of the season. Bub has worked so hard in the offseason, working on his jumper, and you could tell today. It looked really nice.”