Center Assane Sene played a strong game on defense against Drexel.
Defensively, the Virginia men’s basketball team has opened the season with a stingy attitude. Very stingy.
Drexel became the latest team to stumble against the curmudgeonly Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands. Virginia allowed just 25.9% shooting for the game and smothered the Dragons from beginning to end in a 49-35 victory.
The Cavaliers (3-1) have held all four of its opponents so far this season to less than 60 points and three of them have failed to crack 50. Both Drexel (1-2) and South Carolina State couldn’t get out of the 30’s.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett knows that there’s plenty of improvement needed, but he’ll gladly take defensive performances like that as the foundation for the work.
“It wasn’t the best offense, but those were two very good defensive teams that had to scrap and claw for everything,” Bennett told the Virginia Sports Network after the game. “If we can keep our defense at this level and just try to find ways to keep improving offensively as Sammy [Zeglinski] gets healthy, I think we’re headed in the right direction but there’s still work to do.”
The defense didn’t take long to settle in Saturday. In fact, Virginia looked like it meant business immediately in this one. The Cavaliers held Drexel without a single point for approximately 8 minutes at the start of the game and they came out of the gates with a 7-0 run. After the Dragons cut the deficit to 14-10 at the 7:35 mark, the Hoos locked down again defensively and allowed just four points over the final eight minutes. That’s right, for 16 of the first half’s 20 minutes, UVa allowed just four points to hit the scoreboard as Drexel made just 4 of 22 shots before intermission when the Cavaliers led 28-14.
For the game, the Dragons made just 14 of 54 shots as Virginia held them to a miserable shooting day; they made just 3 of 17 3-point attempts. One of the major keys to the defensive success was the effective use of the Pack-Line post trap, which bothered the Dragons and held potential All-CAA performer Samme Givens to just 10 points, some of it late in the second half. UVa senior Assane Sene set the tone defensively by blocking 4 shots (official stats, but looked like he had a fifth as well) and altering numerous others in the paint. He also proved to be a key cog as the trap rotation toward Givens and added 5 rebounds to his ledger as well. Sene had 4 points, including a solid hook in the middle of the paint on a post move from the left block.
“Our guys were alert. [Givens] is a very good player,” Bennett told the Virginia Sports Network after the game. “We tried to be real active and double him and make it hard for him to get touches. I thought the rotations were good and the alertness was good. … Assane was very active. That’s Assane’s strength, he does all those little things whether it’s setting screens, being a help defender, coming across and blocking shots, or just being relentless.”
UVa senior Mike Scott posted 21 points and 10 boards.
While Sene played a major role defensively, senior Mike Scott carried the load on the offensive end. Scott opened the game with a 3-pointer at the top of the key on the first possession of the game and really stayed in the flow throughout the contest. He put together a strong first half when he made 4 of 6 shots to score 9 points and didn’t slow down in the second half to finish with 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting. Scott helped close out the Dragons with free throws down the stretch too; he made 8 of 10 freebies in the game.
Scott also contributed heavily on the defensive end where he slowed down Givens along with the post trap. In the end, Scott added 10 rebounds (9 defensive) and 2 assists, the 25th double-double of his career. He is seventh on the all-time double-doubles list at UVa.
Other Hoos contributing to the box score included Joe Harris (12 points, 1 steal, 1 assist) and Sammy Zeglinski (8 points, 2 steals). Virginia had just 8 turnovers after committing 19 against TCU on Friday.