Mike Scott was perfect from the field, tying the UVa record of nine shots without a miss.
If teams don’t match Virginia’s sense of purpose on the defensive end this season, it quickly can become a long night on the basketball floor. Wake Forest found that out the hard way on Wednesday night at the John Paul Jones Arena.
The Cavaliers held the visitors to 34.1% shooting and then torched the lackluster defensive effort from the Demon Deacons to the tune of 53.7% shooting. The lopsided nature of those shooting statistics tell the whole story of a dominant 68-44 Cavalier victory.
“I thought tonight was one of those games when the offense and the defense came together. After the first few minutes, I felt we had breakdowns defensively but then our defense tightened up and then we guarded well. Obviously guys were in the zone shooting the ball … . We were moving the ball but making it hard for them to score and it was nice to see that because there was good effort and good execution,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “Wake Forest is a team, they certainly were cold tonight because they did miss a few of the open looks they got, but they are a team that can score so I was pleased that we made them shoot mostly contested shots.”
The team’s top two scorers ignited the hot shooting night early. Mike Scott hit two jumpers and Joe Harris added a pair of 3-pointers as the hosts made 4 of their first 5 shots and led 10-2. That trend continued throughout the first half as Virginia (19-4, 6-3 ACC) knocked down 17 of 24 shots, a sterling 70.8% performance before intermission. The Hoos made their last three shots before the halftime buzzer – an Akil Mitchell dunk on a sweet no-look pass from Sammy Zeglinski, a Scott layup in transition courtesy of Malcolm Brogdon , and a Jontel Evans glass kisser to beat the horn – to lead 40-19 at intermission.
Scott, in particular, looked impressive. He hit a variety of jumpers from all over the floor and finished 7-of-7 shooting in the first half. When he went to the bench for good midway through the second half, the senior forward had put up this All-ACC worthy stat line: 19 points on 9-of-9 shooting and 1 of 2 free throws, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist. Scott’s shooting night tied the UVa record for the best perfect shooting game from the floor (Jeff Jones vs. UAB in 1982 and Kenny Turner vs. Samford in 1989). It’s the fourth best perfect shooting game in the country this season.
“I knew I made a lot. I didn’t know how many I had made,” Scott said. “I was on a little bit and I was going. I tried to just keep being aggressive.”
Simply put, the Demon Deacons didn’t have an answer for Scott.
“Our intentions were good coming out of the gate, but he was just on fire. So were the other guys and they were just hitting from all areas and operating on all cylinders. Let’s give Virginia a lot of credit,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We thought our length would at least bother him and it didn’t. You can’t double team him in the mid-post area. We doubled him in the post. When he catches it mid-range and when you run at him, he is used to that. He shoots it very quick.”
Of course, not having an answer for Scott this season has been true of several UVa opponents, including a few of the ACC’s members. The difference Wednesday night was that Wake Forest (11-13, 2-8 ACC) couldn’t stop anyone else either. The Cavaliers placed five players in double figures and seven players hit at least one shot from the field.
Harris recorded 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. Evans added 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal with 0 turnovers. Brogdon made 4 of 5 shots to finish with 10 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Finally, Mitchell matched his career high with 10 points and set a new personal best with 4 assists too; he also had 6 rebounds and 1 steal. Darion Atkins and Zeglinski had 4 points and 4 rebounds each. Atkins also posted 2 blocks and 2 steals, while Zeglinski tallied 4 assists, 0 turnovers, and 2 steals too.
Malcolm Brogdon chipped in 10 points in the rout.
The Hoos said after the game that they were getting a lot of good looks at the basket and that helped produce the points across the board.
“The guards did a good job of moving and the bigs were doing a great job getting us open setting screens,” Harris said. “The rhythm was there. Guys were on time with passes. The screens. Everything was just real efficient offensively. … When everybody is hitting shots, creating for their teammates, and being unselfish, we’re a difficult team to defend.”
“We were moving really hard. We were setting really good screens. That’s one thing we’ve been focusing on, the bigs setting really good screens and they did that tonight and were able to get the guards open to shoot the ball. We had some penetration so they could get shots too,” Brogdon said.
Wake Forest, on the other hand, didn’t find anything easy with the exception of a few baskets in the final 10 minutes when the margin had swelled to 30 points. Virginia’s defense kept the lane congested against the open-post style of the visitors, closed out on shooters, and double-teamed the post when necessary. At times, the Wake Forest offense looked like a game of ring-around-the-rosy passing as the ball just pinged from spot to spot on the perimeter with little chance of creating issues for the D.
In other words, standard operating procedure. Wake Forest became the 10th opponent this season to fall short of 50 points by the game’s conclusion. The Cavaliers have achieved that feat 17 times total in the Bennett era.
“We’re a defensive team. We’ve been that way since Coach Bennett got here,” Mitchell said. “I think it really speaks to the upper classmen and their leadership. We know who we are as a team and we know what we hang our hat on. That’s a really impressive statistic for us.”