The Virginia men’s basketball team built a 17-point lead early in the second half and then held off a Drake comeback attempt to win its final game in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands, 60-52. UVa posted a 2-1 record in the event and owns a 4-1 record on the season.
Though disappointed with a Friday night loss to TCU, Cavalier coach Tony Bennett was pleased to head back to Charlottesville with two wins in tow.
“Tough tournament, it really is. I wish we would have had the chance to play Marquette. They’re a heck of a team,” Bennett said in a VirginiaSports.com news release. “But our staff, we were talking about it, Alabama came here [last year] and went 0-3 in this tournament. And in these settings, especially the third game, a lot of crazy stuff happens when you watch these tournaments. Whether it’s poor shooting, turnovers, you see that stuff happen.”
Turnovers? The Hoos had a disturbing dose of those in the second half as the Bulldogs whittled into Virginia’s 17-point cushion. During a steady climb back into the game, Drake used fullcourt man pressure, some traps, and aggressive halfcourt defense to periodically fluster the Cavs. As a result, Virginia committed nine second-half turnovers (16 in the game). In fact after the lead moved from 32-15 at the 16:20 mark of the second half thanks to a 16-2 run that bridged intermission, the turnovers became a common sight over the next four minutes as UVa lost the ball six times.
The Bulldogs sliced the lead in half during that stretch, but the Cavaliers settled down and held Drake at arm’s length until the final three minutes. The lead dwindled to just four points on three different occasions in the final three minutes before the Hoos finally put the game away. Thanks to a pair of clutch shots from seniors Sammy Zeglinski (a tough pull-up leaner in the lane) and Mike Scott (a short jumper over some crowded defense on the right block), Drake never got within one possession; then in the final 44 seconds, Malcolm Brogdon started the Virginia free throw parade with a pair of makes and the Bulldogs never got closer than six again as UVa converted its final 8 shots at the line.
Joe Harris (left) poured in 18 points and Mike Scott added 14 in the Cavaliers’ win.
“I’m glad we weathered the storm in that second half. We really did, because we got shaky with the ball,” Bennett said. “Maybe in the past we wouldn’t have been able to recover, but I thought after we finally calmed down, we had to break the press, we had to make free throws, we had to try and get stops. But to be able to overcome that adversity, I take as a positive.”
Scott finished the game just shy of another double-double with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Brogdon added 8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal, while Akil Mitchell had 6 points and 3 rebounds. Assane Sene recorded 7 points and 3 steals.
Virginia sophomore Joe Harris posted the strongest scoring line of the night with a game-high 18 points. Harris made 6 of 11 shots and 6 of 6 free throws. He showed off some impressive dribble moves to get those points on the board too. On numerous occasions with Drake trying to run him off the 3-point line, Harris put the ball on the deck, attacked the paint, and hit varying shots. Those buckets included a shot off the glass while getting fouled, a floater in the key, and a hard drive to the middle with his left hand to set up a tough pull-up jumper near the free-throw line.
Harris told Jeff White of VirginiaSports.com that dealing with adversity in the Paradise Jam event should benefit the team over the course of the season.
“It was good, and not just on the court playing against good competition and finishing on a good note,” Harris said. “Even off the court, some of the stuff that we’ve done, I think it’s really good for our team chemistry. I feel like we’re all getting closer as a group.”