In the early moments of Virginia’s game with Wofford on Sunday, some of the post-exam issues with turnovers and defensive lapses that appeared against Morgan State and Old Dominion seemed set to haunt the Cavaliers again in their final non-conference game of the season. Over the last 25 minutes, however, those problems mostly vanished and the Hoos dominated both ends of the floor en route to a 74-39 victory.
UVa bridged the halves with a 39-6 run (14-2 to end the first half and 25-4 to open the second) and finished 63.8% shooting from the floor, a number paced by the breakout play of Mike Tobey as he missed just one shot. The Hoos also held the Terriers to 33.3% shooting and just 39 points, a number well below their 61.5 average.
Needless to say, the Cavaliers were more pleased with this effort than last week’s disappointing loss to ODU in the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic.
“We haven’t really practiced or played well in a couple of weeks now. We had a pretty good practice yesterday and to play like we did today feels good just because we haven’t had a good, focused practice in a long time so for us to play like we did today defensively and then get things kind of rolling offensively is really good for us going into conference play,” said junior Joe Harris , who tallied 15 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals.
“Today we played with a lot more energy and passion. That’s one of our five pillars is passion so we definitely brought that to the game. A lot of energy with the starters and then off the bench starting with me so it definitely paid off having intense practices the last couple days to kind of get back into the swing of things,” said reserve guard Doug Browman, who delivered 6 assists and great defense in 23 minutes.
Virginia freshman Mike Tobey made 9 of 10 shots.
Beyond the bounce-back nature of this game, the story of the day quickly became Tobey, Virginia’s true freshman center. The youngster poured in 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting, which included a 3-pointer in the second half. He also added 6 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 blocked shot in 27 minutes. The points, rebounds, and minutes all represent career-highs; starter Darion Atkins posted just 7 minutes thanks to what coach Tony Bennett called a “shin issue”.
Tobey showed little concern with Wofford’s defense as he exploited a significant height advantage – no Terrier is listed taller than 6’8″ while Tobey is listed at 6’11” – on both blocks. He flashed frequent touch with both hands, using hook shots, turn-around jumpers, and face-up shots from the perimeter to pile up his points on the day.
“I thought we took advantage of the mismatches and Mike showed his soft touch,” Bennett said. “He really has a nice touch and it’s just a matter of time as his strength comes and his experience. He’ll get better, but he can score and he has some skills. He hit a three and showed you some perimeter stuff but both blocks left hand, right hand – that was good to see. Again, it was smaller guys but you’ve still got to put the ball in the basket and I thought those were some nice offensive stretches for him and he’s got to keep working on the defensive end.”
“I just came into the game trying to play hard and trying to win the game,” Tobey said. “The hulk of the game plan was definitely get inside. I had a significant height advantage.”
Arguably though, Tobey’s most important statistic on the day was the 6 rebounds. He grabbed 5 boards on the defensive end where he also showed improving awareness in the Pack-Line defense, which has been a struggle at times in the season’s early stages. Entering the game with Wofford, Tobey recorded more than 2 defensive rebounds just once when he snared 4 against Seattle. Those 4 boards were his previous career-high total.
The coaching staff has been pushing Tobey to be more active on the defensive side of the floor and on the glass.
Akil Mitchell posted 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 assists.
“He has some size. Those little things like having a nose for the ball on the glass without Darion playing as much,” Bennett said. “Again, there were times when he could have slid across and taken a charge or bothered a shot and he was a little bit in no man’s land – should I cling to my guy? Those are some natural progressions that have to take place, but when he’s alert and active, boy, it makes a difference. Then his size comes into play.”
It is junior Akil Mitchell ‘s job to continue that development for Tobey. Mitchell, who had another strong showing with 15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 assists, said he has been tasked with challenging Tobey on the boards in practice.
“I kill him on the glass. I’m supposed to. That’s my job, just to toughen him up,” Mitchell said. “That’s what they told me to do. He can rebound the ball. He’s got the potential too. He’s seven feet. He’s a big player. I’m just proud of the way he played today.”
Tobey said that tutoring is beneficial for him.
“It’s going well. Akil is a great leader and a really good mentor for me,” Tobey said. “He’s been through the system for two years now and he’s really good at helping us young guys keep our heads up and keep pushing.”
The Hoos hope the break-through performance against the Terriers is a sign of things to come as the conference portion of the schedule opens in the new year. With those ACC battles ahead and Atkins nursing shin problems, after all, UVa will need Tobey to provide valuable time on the floor in the weeks to come.