ATLANTA – Call ‘em the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Cavaliers after Sunday’s 66-60 stinker of a setback at Georgia Tech.
Virginia arrived in Hotlanta like a rolling ball of butcher knives, having sliced and diced its last four ACC opponents. Of course, three of those were within the friendly confines of John Paul Jones Arena.
The ACC road, which has been full of potholes for the Cavaliers, is quite another story.
UVa is 13-1 at home but 2-5 when it ventures beyond the city limits signs. The only ACC road game the Cavaliers have won came at Virginia Tech in the midst of the four-game winning streak.
While Coach Tony Bennett didn’t want to point any of the blame on his team’s inexperience, some of the Wahoo freshmen looked a bit lost in Georgia Tech’s new McCamish Pavilion. With the exception of Justin Anderson, UVa’s freshmen played like freshmen.
Anderson contributed 10 points, three rebounds and four assists and continued to deliver with consistency. Center Mike Tobey, coming off the game of his young collegiate life against 19th-ranked North Carolina State, got in early foul trouble against the Yellow Jackets and was never a factor. Evan Nolte, from nearby Milton, Ga., had sparked several runs in recent games but was 2-for-9 from the field and saddled with foul issues as well, making his first start in front of his home fans.
When UVa built a 57-48 lead with 8:12 remaining, the Cavaliers seemed to have dropped off the planet. Virginia didn’t score another basket until 35 seconds remained and were outscored 18-3 the final eight minutes of the game, the most critical stretch of the contest.
“I don’t want to make any excuses for our team,” said junior Joe Harris, whose game-high 18 points made him the 44th Cavalier to reach the program’s 1,000-career points club. “Granted we are a young team and it is difficult playing on the road but today had nothing with us being young.”
Harris instead believed he and his teammates just weren’t tough enough in the second half and were beaten to one loose ball after another.
While that’s a valid point, Virginia is a team that has only one scholarship senior and two scholarship juniors, which means it must rely on talented, yet inexperienced freshmen to take up the slack. Those freshmen have shown flashes of brilliance but rarely have been able to overcome the challenges presented on the ACC road.
“Whether it was inexperience _ a couple of those (late) breakdowns were from experienced guys (Harris and Akil Mitchell),” Bennett said. “We can’t afford to have lapses whether it’s not picking up loose balls or missing free throws, or a careless turnover. To overcome that, especially on the road, you’ve got to be sound.”
Bennett pointed out that both Tobey’s and Nolte’s foul problems could have been a product of inexperience as well.
“That’s where inexperience comes in,” the coach said of the two freshmen’s performances. “They didn’t look as sharp as they have been. Hopefully, the guys can learn from that. They weren’t the way they’ve been in recent games.”