UVa’s Sammy Zeglinski poured in 20 points vs. Towson.
With a shooting percentage only slightly higher than the opponent’s losing streak, the Virginia men’s basketball team survived a sluggish offensive night at the John Paul Jones Arena on Friday. The Cavaliers made just 34.8% of their shots as they handed visiting Towson its 32nd straight loss, 57-50. Despite the struggle, UVa improved to 12-1 for the first time since 1982-83.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett thought the cold shooting night carried over into other areas of the game and that affected the team as much as missing shots.
“It’s funny, we shot a lot the last two days. We’ve really gotten in the arena and it really showed right?” Bennett said with a chuckle. “We got some looks and I said our guys are going to have to go in there and repaint the rims because we chipped the paint off the rim with some of our bricks. But when you’ve got a good shot, you’ve got to take it. Shooters, your shots are going to vary and you’re going to go through some cold stretches, but will you shoot it with confidence? But will the other areas – I always tell players ‘don’t be defined by your shot and if it’s going in or out’ – will you affect the game in other ways? I thought our cold shooting affected our movement on offense, our execution, just our sureness. … The biggest violation on our part is I think our cold shooting affected every area and you could just see our guys didn’t have the same purpose we’ve had in other games.”
Fortunately for the Hoos, the starting wings had enough offensive gas in the tank to provide the points needed to win. Sammy Zeglinski and Joe Harris combined for 37 of the team’s 57 points. Zeglinski posted 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists, while Harris added 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 steal. The duo made 11 of 23 shots on the night (47.8%) while the rest of the Cavaliers combined to shoot 5 of 23 (21.7%). At the 8:00 mark of the second half, players outside of Zeglinski and Harris had made just two field goal attempts. In the end, only Mike Scott (7 points on 3-of-7 shooting) and Malcolm Brogdon (9 points on 2-of-9 shooting) made additional baskets; Assane Sene and Akil Mitchell contributed 4 points on free throws.
Joe Harris scored 17 points in the Hoos’ 12th win of the season.
Zeglinski helped the Hoos stay afloat offensively with a trio of 3-pointers that bridged the halves. He made one late in the first half and drained two more on the Cavs’ first two possessions after intermission. The senior credited Jontel Evans with creating some good looks on those possessions with penetration. Evans had 5 assists and just 1 turnover on the night.
“It was a tough night offensively. I don’t think we were very sharp. We didn’t execute,” Zeglinski said. “[Those shots were] in the flow of the offense. Jontel did a great job of getting into the paint and making great decisions. He did a great job getting in the paint all night and at the end of the game he made a great play passing it to Malcolm, who knocked down a shot.”
Towson, whose large losses this season include Kansas 100-54, Michigan 64-47, Oregon State 66-46, and UMass 86-56, scrapped and clawed throughout Friday’s contest to keep it close. Kris Walden led the way with 15 points, while Marcus Damas added 13. But the defensive effort is where the Tigers stayed in the game. The visitors clogged the paint as much as possible and, with help from some foul trouble, denied Scott many opportunities for the Hoos. Towson also got through the Cavaliers’ screens and contained many attempts to drive to the basket.
“I felt like we were really prepared coming into this game and I think maybe we might have overlooked Towson a little bit, looking at their record they haven’t even won a game and maybe we took that record for granted and felt like we were going to come out with the easy win,” Harris said. “We knew they executed really well offensively, but the one area that we felt like we could take advantage was on their defense. They tended to get caught up on screens and that sort of thing, but tonight I felt like they really battled and scrapped with us and played tough. A lot of credit to Towson, they played a lot better than what their record shows.”
Towson coach Pat Skerry said he is looking for that kind of defense consistently from his group.
“With all of these new players, that’s something we have been trying to preach to them. If you guard, and continue to guard, guard, guard, you are going to put yourself in position to win games. This is the first time we have done it for close to 40 minutes,” Skerry said. “The truth is, I would be ok if we went 0-32 and we defend like that. The reality is, we won’t go 0-32 if we defend like that.”
Bennett said his team’s offensive execution didn’t create the kind of looks the Cavaliers want on offense and that they need to find ways to get Scott more touches when teams are working to keep him away from the ball.
“They did sort of sandwich in around him and we didn’t get him a lot of touches. I’ve got to look at that. We probably could have tried to do some more things to get it to him because when we get it to him, even if they’re trapping or packing around him with other guys, he’s a good passer so he’ll find [teammates open],” Bennett said. “At times, we didn’t give it a chance. We’d go to one side and got a little anxious. I think when he was in there at times, you’ve got to look to run your offense through him more. They were very aware of him and trying to push him off the lane and almost daring him to take those shots. We certainly have to get him touches.”
Certainly, the Hoos need to work out the offensive issues before a road trip to face some more Tigers on Monday. LSU represents the last non-conference game of the season for Virginia and the only chance to add one more non-ACC road win to the postseason resume. Bennett hopes his team is reminded of the effort and focus needed to pick up victories any time you step on the court.
“Every game is an opportunity. We’ve had off games and come back. I think a game like this would suggest that if we play like this in conference play, then no we’re not ready for conference; that’s pretty obvious. The challenge for us is every time you have a performance like this, what do you have to do to improve. That’s our job as coaches and as a team together; what do we have to do to sure up those areas that are going to cost us,” Bennett said. “Certainly there is going to be fierce play on the offensive glass starting at LSU; you’re going to go against more size and athleticism. You’re going to have to execute and you’re going to have to play both ends and this won’t stand up against conference play and LSU. So you understand that and you go to work at practice and you don’t hang your head, you say we’re still a solid team. Like I said earlier, when we play well we’re good, we can play with most teams and be successful. When we don’t we become very average to below average.”