Sean Singletary had 23 points and 8 assists in the win.
The Virginia men’s basketball team added to its outstanding record in the John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday, dispatching Howard 92-53 to improve to 18-1 in the building that opened last season. The win, a part of The Philly Classic that concludes on Thanksgiving weekend, improved the Hoos to 2-0 this season.
Despite a sluggish start, the Cavaliers set venue records in the 39-point victory. The 37 made field goals, 24 assists, and 10 steals all are program highs in the JPJ; the team also tied the field goals attempted record with 75 shots. Further, the Cavs 92 points gave them 90 points or more in the first two games of the season for the first time since 2000-01.
“These games are somewhat more difficult to play than when you play teams on paper because, it becomes much more a battle of playing against yourself sometimes. That’s no disrespect to Howard or anybody else. It is hard to control human emotions or mindsets when [the Virginia players] look at the score and they know [the opponents] might be doing a little better. You can’t mentally take your foot off the gas pedal,” UVa coach Dave Leitao said. “As a result of that we started a little slow today and played a bit more back on our heels than I would have liked. Fortunately, we rotated enough guys in and picked up the pace in the second half to stretch the margin out and play a little better, especially on the defensive end. All around you put this one in the bank as a learning experience as you should and get ready to get on the road and play an important game on Saturday.”
The Hoos trailed 24-19 before finally getting their act together. Part of the early struggles came against a 1-3-1 zone that Howard deployed. The Cavs were impatient against that defensive look and took numerous contested shots. Eventually, the team did settle down against the odd-front zone and moved the ball more efficiently both with the dribble and with the pass.
“Just attack it and not play so tentative,” Mamadi Diane said of the adjustment to the look. “It’s not really something we’ve really played against and not something we were really familiar with so we kind of played back on our heels.”
Virginia eventually ended the first half on a 22-2 run to lead 41-26 at intermission. Despite the sleep-walking start, Leitao was pleased that his team did at least somewhat get its act together.
In the end, 13 different players scored for Virginia. Sean Singletary (8 assists, 5 turnovers, 4 rebounds, 1 steal) led the way with 23 points while Diane added 14. Also in double figures were Jeff Jones (3 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists) with 10 and Calvin Baker (8 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 turnovers) with 11; Baker tied his career-high with 8 rebounds, a number he first posted at William & Mary before transferring.
“I think we came around toward the end of the first half and in to the second half. Defensively, I thought we came around, specifically on how we guarded the perimeter. We played a little bit more team defense so I was happy that we finished the game [that way],” Leitao said. “I was pretty happy with the way we played for the last 20-some odd minutes.”
Indeed, the last 20 to 25 minutes showed a team more patient on offense, more disciplined on defense, and more intense overall. Evidence of that fact can be found in the Cavaliers’ field goal percentage in the two halves. The Hoos shot 41.7% in the first half and 56.4% in the second.
But it took some … well, let’s just call it motivation from Leitao to get the team going. The coach shuffled player after player in the early going, looking for a more focused combination while simultaneously experimenting with the deepest Virginia roster in quite some time. At one point, the line-up even featured Diane in the power forward slot and Mustapha Farrakhan in the small forward role.
Mike Scott had 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist.
One player who saw some time early in the game because of the revolving door substitutions? Mike Scott. The freshman forward, who did not play until the closing moments against Vermont on Sunday, checked in much earlier this time around. He made the most of his first extended action for the Hoos, recording 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 assist.
Fellow freshman Jeff Jones noticed his play.
“It was good seeing Mike out there because he’s been injured for awhile. I’ve been waiting for this ever since he got injured the first time, so I know he’s capable of doing all the things he did out there today,” Jones said. “What he’s missing is his explosiveness. He can really jump. From what I saw tonight, he’s probably about 80% because I’ve seen him jump a good ways over the rim. But he did really well out there.”
Indeed, Scott is still recovering from an ankle injury in the offseason that has slowed his start at UVa. Leitao noted Wednesday night that Scott still doesn’t have his explosiveness, but that he is a good finisher on the offensive end.
“He did good things. He finished and he’s got a good touch to be able to finish. He’s got a nice face-up touch. He made a jumpshot. He can make free throws. He has a knack for rebounding the basketball and he’s got some toughness. Those are the kind of things I saw,” Leitao said. “But he’s still not there yet. He doesn’t have his explosion, which is the final piece to getting him to play the way he played when I first saw him. He has a chance, I think, to be really good because he has all those attributes. You get a guy that can shoot like a perimeter player but yet has the explosion and the quickness of a power player – once he gets stronger, pretty good potential. He’s not nearly there yet and obviously without game experience, we’re only going to see it right now in flashes.”
Among the flashes? Finishing a shot in transition, squaring up to knock down a 3-pointer, and a string of impressive rebounds. The freshman said the trifecta helped “the confidence boost right up” and the rest of his game followed from there. The main focus was on not holding back while in the action.
“I was trying to be very aggressive. I think that’s one thing I bring to the team, a lot of aggressiveness,” Scott said. “Get the crowd riled up, get us hyped up. We weren’t playing a very good game so far and I think when I got [an early] steal, it boosted everyone’s confidence.”
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