UVa’s Akil Mitchell posted 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals.
Akil Mitchell led all scorers with 20 points as Virginia defeated Mississippi Valley State 67-39 on Saturday, The Hoos’ seventh straight win on the season. The Cavaliers used size and quickness to easily dispatch the Delta Devils before a crowd of just more than 8,000 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Mitchell, along with Darion Atkins , dominated the game in the paint. It was a tale of two halves for UVa’s two primary post players. Atkins scored 12 points in the first half and finished with 14, tying a career high. He added 7 rebounds and a blocked shot. Mitchell, meanwhile, opened the second half with 10 consecutive points. He finished with 20 points to tie his career high as well. He also added 5 rebounds and 4 steals in just 16 minutes of action.
The Cavaliers played sloppy at times, particularly in the first half. Much of that can be attributed to coach Tony Bennett’s use of several players that typically get little time on the floor. Bennett went deep into his bench and 10 Cavaliers saw 13 or more minutes of action. With 2:56 left in the game, Virginia started to clear its bench.
“You never know what to expect watching Mississippi Valley,” Bennett said. “They had Northwestern tied with five minutes [to go]. They had a guy who scored 36 points. You didn’t know what kind of game it was, but if we played well, I was hoping to get some of our young guys more experience, and we did. We were sloppy. We’ve got some things to work on, but those minutes are always valuable for your young guys.”
The Hoos were without the services of senior point guard Jontel Evans , who tweaked a previously injured foot against Green Bay on Wednesday. Evans sat out this game while wearing a protective boot. That meant that freshman Teven Jones got the start again at point, but he too had to sit at the 8:38 mark of the first half when he picked up his second foul. That afforded more time to both freshman Taylor Barnett and walk-on Doug Browman to run the offense.
Even with the shuffling of players and point guard mix in the first half, Virginia’s defense proved stingy. The Delta Devils managed just 4-of-25 shooting from the field, but were able to keep the game somewhat competitive as they hit on 13 of 16 free throws. Still, the Cavaliers pulled out to a 14-point lead as the first half concluded.
Justin Anderson recorded career highs in points and rebounds.
The Hoos came out focused after the break. They repeatedly pounded the ball inside, and after just three minutes of play stretched their lead to 44-24 on a Mitchell dunk – one of many on the day. The Cavs never led by less than 17 points the rest of the game, and for much of the second half is was a crowd-pleasing dunk fest.
“It’s fun for the guys, the team, and fans,” Mitchell said. “But winning basketball games isn’t all about entertainment. I know my coach and if we were out there making dumb decisions and dumb plays, he wouldn’t stand for it. But, if we can be a little flashy and still get it done, then he has no problem with that.”
Freshman center Mike Tobey didn’t see action until the second half and immediately made his presence felt by blocking several shots. Tobey ended up with 3 blocked shots in all, and added 5 points and 3 rebounds in just 12 minutes of action. He had to come out of the game after suffering a blow to his nose during a rebound scramble in the second half. “Hopefully, Mike didn’t break his nose,” Bennett said.
Anderson tied Joe Harris for the most minutes played and put 15 points and 9 rebounds, both career highs, on the board. Anderson got fans off their seats with a couple of exciting plays, including a drive and fake pass in the lane for an uncontested dunk.
“He got 27 minutes,” Bennett said. “After the last two practices, I took Justin, Taylor, Mike, Evan and Doug, and especially with Jontel aggravating his foot again, I said those guys are going to have to give us something. So, we worked after practice. We’re trying to get those guys to really hold them accountable and work with them because they’re going to be important. I like it when I see them get these opportunities. I like it when I see them do the things we’re working on.”
“I got a couple of good looks at first, but it was early, especially coming off the bench at the start,” Anderson said. “But, it was trust in our coaches. They called me over and told me to get something with my athleticism, so I trusted them and good things happened”
Virginia shot 50 percent from the field for the game, but just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc. Harris played 27 minutes but allowed his teammates to get most of the shots on offense. Harris would finish with a season low 3 points on 0-4 shooting.
After a foul prone first half, the Hoos tightened up their defensive effort in the second half. In all, the Cavaliers blocked 8 shots and posted 9 steals (4 by Mitchell, a career high). Virginia held Mississippi Valley to just 19 percent shooting for the game. It was the second straight contest UVa allowed less than 40 points. The last time that happened in back-to-back contests was 63 years ago against Langley Field (38) and the Richmond Royals (39).
“I’m thankful that we’re 8-2 after starting off 1-2,” Bennett said. “We played stretches of good basketball, but we have some things to work on. I can see that. Look at the offensive rebounds in this game . We wanted to go inside and we did more in the second half, but I’ve got to keep defining how we’ve got to play. … I’m thankful and I think there were stretches of good basketball. Now the guys really have to buckle down and hit the books. We’ll have a couple days off and work through the finals schedule.”
Virginia stands at 8-2 heading into the exam break and resumes action against Morgan State on Dec. 19. That game is set for 7 p.m.
“I think [the exam break] catches us at a good time,” Atkins said. “It gives us a chance to get some rest, and it’s long overdue. We’ve had so many close games that I feel like we need this. Once we have this break, we’ll come back more energized and more focused.”