Cavaliers set JPJ record for 3-point shooting percentage
UVa jumped out to a 19-6 early lead, led by as many as 24, and used a 14-2 run late to hold off a frenzied North Texas comeback in an 80-64 win at home on Tuesday night in the final game of the NIT Tip-Off.
Led by three freshmen, Justin Anderson (14), Teven Jones (13), and Evan Nolte (13), Virginia was able to place five scorers in double figures.
Not surprisingly, all three freshmen had career highs as well as Atkins, whose defense and rebounding (9) were essential.
Anderson, who also added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals with no turnovers off the bench, did a little bit of everything including going 6-of-8 at the free throw line.
Jones took a lot of contact throughout the game but played a team-high 31 minutes, posting 4 assists and going 6-of-7 from the line.
And Nolte, who came off the bench as well, shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field (3 of 3 from 3-point land) and added 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
In all, UVa (4-2) shot 58.7 percent for the game and 72.7 from 3-point land, the 10th best percentage in school history. It was the best night the Wahoos have had from behind the arc since a 76.9-percent night at Minnesota in 2010.
"I thought they came out with a lot of energy," UVa's Tony Bennett said of his team. "I thought that first half was the best half of basketball that we've put out there and I thought they were very active on the defensive end, swarming the ball, bothering the post."
Against a North Texas squad (3-3) that features 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward Tony Mitchell, a player many have tabbed as a future NBA lottery pick, UVa managed to build a solid early lead. The Hoos shot 59.3 percent in the first half but it was their defense, which allowed just 22 points and yielded 28 percent shooting from the field, that really took hold.
"In the first half you might say that Mitchell kid is talented but I'm not sure and then when he gets going, he can be a load," Bennett said. Mitchell scored just 5 in the first half but finished with a 16 points and 9 rebounds.
Playing their sixth game in 12 days, the Cavaliers managed to shoot as well as they defended. If they were tired, they didn't show it.
"The mind's always stronger than guys realize when they're motivated and right," Bennett said.
There was a stretch in the second half, especially without Jones on the floor, where North Texas made a run. The Mean Green created turnover after turnover (UVa finished with 15 total) and went on a 19-6 run. Harris, who was saddled with two early fouls and only ended up playing 21 minutes, hit a 3 with 10:36 left that gave Virginia a 14-point advantage. It seemed to steady the team. But only briefly.
Mitchell hit two free throws and then Alzee Williams was fouled, made the basket, and hit sank the FT with 10:05 remaining. Suddenly, UVa's lead had dwindled to single digits.
"We got rattled. We did," Bennett said, noting that it was UVa's lack of transition defense that gave North Texas an opportunity.
"We got frazzled but we stuck together," Jones said. "That's how we were able to win this game."
He led the spurt that sealed the win, making two free throws that ended up being the start of a 12-2 run over the next six minutes. He added a nice 10-foot baseline jumper, Anderson made a basket and three free throws, and then Paul Jesperson left an improbable pass to Anderson on a fast break by throwing it off the bounce between his legs. Anderson collected, was fouled, and made one of two.
"It was a shock," Anderson said of Jesperon's pass. "But it was a good basketball play and I knew it was either going to D-A on the other side or to me, so I was ready. But I definitely didn't expect that."
By the time the Hoos broke the press and Atkins' dunk with 4:28 rattled the rims and brought the crowd to its feet, UVa was up 73-56 in a game that North Texas would never lead.
"I think this is the most-unselfish team that I've ever played with," Anderson said. "Guys making that extra pass: That's what made it beautiful basketball in the first half.
"It feels good when you see your teammate have success and nobody is worried about who gets the credit. ," Anderson said. "I think it's all about the guys who Coach Bennett recruits. He recruits high-class athletes. That's one of our pillars: humility and thankfulness. Being around these guys? It's just great. And we want to see each other succeed."
Added Nolte, "Like Coach Bennett says, sometimes you have to give up a good shot for a great shot and we were doing that early in the game. I think we got back to that late. It was a lot of fun out there."
Jones, as UVa continues to play without senior point guard Jontel Evans while he works his way back from offseason surgery for a stress fracture, handled North Texas' pressure well. He also has no allusions of grandeur.
"When Jontel went down, I knew I had an opportunity to play a lot," Jones explained. "Just to come in in his place while he's hurt. And I'm just looking to run the team until he comes back and when he comes back, I'll have no problem coming off the bench after him and give backup minutes. It just happened this way."
Bennett said that after resting Evans these last three games and with next week's ACC/Big 10 Challenge showdown at Wisconsin, he's hopeful his lone senior can play against the Badgers.
If not, the Cavaliers appear to be learning to play together in the face of some adversity. And Bennett seems to be getting plenty from Jones.
"To be able to step in and contribute like that and knock down free throws, hit a few shots...I was very pleased with the lift he gave us." Bennett said. "When he's not on the floor, we don't have a true point guard. And I like it better when there's more of a ball handler out there."
Also as important? The way Atkins defended, bothered, and was just an all-around headache for Mitchell while also chipping in around the rim.
"Darion's active and mobile and actually has soft touch around the basket," Bennett said. "As all those young guys get stronger, they're going to get better and better. I think (for) Darion, confidence is an amazing thing and he's getting more comfortable and gives us a lot on the defensive end especially when he's engaged and locked in."