Joe Harris stuffed the stat sheet against Lamar with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, and 2 blocks.
The Virginia men’s basketball team burst out of the gates Monday night with a shooting barrage and never let Lamar back in the game en route to the 63-44 NIT Preseason Tip-Off victory. UVa canned 5 of 6 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes to build an 18-point lead, which the Cardinals never trimmed below double digits the rest of the way.
The outing marks the 21st time in the Tony Bennett era that Virginia has held an opponent to less than 50 points. Not surprisingly, UVa owns a 20-1 record in those games.
“I thought we did a really good job on running our offense. It is something that we have really been focusing on lately,” Hoo junior Joe Harris said. “We try to not be stagnant, and to be continuous. We really work on getting good screens in and I think that is what gave us a lot of clean looks at the beginning of the game.”
Much like Saturday’s lopsided win against Seattle, a balanced scoring attack and stingy defense kept the Cavaliers (3-2) in control once they built the early lead. Virginia placed 2 players in double figures and 7 scored at least 5 points on Monday, just two days after 7 players scored at least 7 points with 4 in double figures against the Redhawks.
Against the Cardinals (0-4), Harris led the way with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He made 3 of 5 triples to boost his season numbers to 11 of 23 (47.8%) from behind the arch. Harris is averaging 15.6 points per game through the season’s first five contests. Against Lamar, the junior added 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists, and 2 blocks to his line as well.
It proved to be a nice way to bounce back from a sub-par performance against Seattle where Harris had just 7 points (2-of-5 shooting) and 1 rebound.
“I challenged him and he responded. He wasn’t at his best, again I know it wasn’t needed, against Seattle but I thought he played better tonight,” Bennett said. “We need that and I was happy to see that. I like the word efficient. I think good players are efficient. I thought Joe tonight, he brought that. That’s the sign of a mature player.”
Joining Harris in double figures was fellow junior Akil Mitchell , who posted 10 points and 8 rebounds as well as 2 assists. Mitchell has hit at least the 10-point mark in every game of the season thus far. Virginia picked up 9 points from Paul Jesperson as well as he knocked down 3 of 5 3-point attempts. He added 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 assist, and 1 steal too. The points and rebounds (tie) represent career-high numbers.
Teven Jones , who got his first career start, continued to have a steadying influence on the offense, which had struggled without a true point guard in the season’s first three games. He posted 6 points, 2 assists, and 1 steal to go with just 1 turnover in 27 minutes. Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson added 6 points each as well, while Darion Atkins chipped in with 5 points.
That balanced approach may be becoming a calling card for this year’s Hoos because it is the most likely way for them to be successful.
“I think that’s really when we’re playing at our strength when there’s real balanced scoring,” Jesperson said. “Obviously Joe is going to get some looks and he’s going to knock a lot of those down so he’s going to be our leading scorer most of the time, but when we have well balanced scoring throughout the rest of the guys, I feel like that’s when we really get things rolling and we’re hard to beat.”
Paul Jesperson posted 9 points and 5 rebounds, both career-highs.
One of the best parts of Monday’s offensive showing came in the form of post feeds. Virginia’s perimeter feeders did a much better job of making a ball fake and then entering the ball into the post than in some of the year’s previous games. That included some strong wrap-around bounce passes to the inside as well.
Mitchell said it hasn’t been emphasized in practice really, but that the offense appears to be settling in a little bit the last two games.
“I really like those guys throwing it in there. I feel like we just had a lot of good looks. We were able to get their guys in foul trouble,” Mitchell said. “Our guards are doing a great job of trying to play inside-out. They know we’ll give it back to them if we get in trouble so the way they were shooting … we had good post feeds.”
The defense is coming around too. The Cardinals committed 14 turnovers against the Hoos on Monday night, which led to 31 points. Recent teams have had more trouble getting good looks too. After George Mason eclipsed the 50% shooting mark in the opener and Delaware put up a 50% second half too, the last two games have been better on that end of the floor. UVa held Seattle to 25.4% and Lamar to 32.6%, though it should be noted that neither team presented sure-thing 3-point shooters to challenge the Pack-Line defense.
Still, there are steps being made on defense that include better dribble containment, improvement on the Pack-Line’s post demands, and staying more continuous through possessions. So while there is plenty of work to be done with better opponents on the horizon – including North Texas, featuring preseason All-American and likely NBA Draft pick Tony Mitchell, on Tuesday night – the team is making progress. That’s without Jontel Evans , the lone scholarship senior, in the line-up as well, which bodes well for when he returns later this season and beyond.
“I’m not sure. I think I just want to keep getting the guys healthy. That’ll take some more time. I think we are making the most of our opportunities. As I told them before the game, sometimes things don’t always show but we are continuing to build. You’ve got to just keep plugging,” Bennett said. “We can’t afford a lot of mistakes the way we play, so we kind of have to play a little closer to the vest and it doesn’t always look the best. I can sense when guys are starting to understand what it means to get the ball reversed, to look inside, to make the other team work – all things that for us equate to good basketball.”