Here are my takeaways after Virginia’s 78-41 dismantling of Clemson on Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
-- The crazy rollercoaster season continues for Virginia. Every time you think you have this team figured out, they do something else to surprise you. On Thursday, you thought the Wahoos, missing two key frontline players in Darion Atkins and Mike Tobey, would struggle against Clemson’s ultra-physical big guys. Instead, UVa goes with a smaller lineup with Justin Anderson at the 4 and completely shreds a Tigers’ defense that came into the game ranked No. 2 in the ACC in scoring defense (behind Virginia). The Wahoos' 78 points were the most they've scored in an ACC game this season and the third-most they've scored in any game this season.
-- The most telling stat from this game was Virginia’s 17 assists and six turnovers. Virginia coach Tony Bennett said it was the most unselfish performance of the season. On the flip side, Clemson had four assists and 19 turnovers.
-- Anderson is no longer playing like a freshman anymore. I truly believe he’s gotten over the hump that almost all first-year players have to go through in adjusting to a new team and figuring out how to play on the college level. I would be surprised if he has too many more duds this season. Against Clemson, Anderson was electric. The 6-foot-6 swingman was a Human Highlight Film. In fact, maybe we need to start calling him “Little Nique” after former NBA star Dominique Wilkins (who, funny enough, my family named our little West Highland Terrier after when I was a kid). Coming out of Montrose Christian High, recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons kept telling me that Anderson was a better athlete than former UNC star Vince Carter was at the same stage. Bob, if you’re out there and reading Whitey 365, I’m starting to believe you. The backward alley-oop was pretty sick, but I’m with Tony Bennett in that I think Anderson’s most impressive play of the night was that over-the-head no-look pass to Akil Mitchell for a dunk. I think we all knew Anderson could jump out of the gym, but we truly had no idea about this kid’s passing skills. For the season, Anderson now has 48 assists and just 22 turnovers. That ratio of 2.2 is the best on the team and would be the fifth-best in the ACC if Anderson had enough assists to qualify as a league leader.
-- Akil Mitchell’s defense on Devin Booker was a major key to the win. Mitchell also had 16 points, six rebounds and tied a career-high with four steals. The junior forward put a sub-par game against Georgia Tech behind him. You could tell that getting Clemson back for that Jan. 12 loss was really important to Mitchell, who had engaged in a lot of trash talking with the Tigers’ Milton Jennings down in that game. Jennings was MIA on Thursday, going just 1 of 7 from the field for two points. Jennings also had a game-high five turnovers. Lost in the shuffle of all Anderson’s highlight-reel plays were a couple of sweet aerial displays by Mitchell. My favorite was when he picked up a loose ball near half court and raced in for a vicious one-handed tomahawk dunk.
-- Joe Harris had a team-high 21 points in just 27 minutes, playing one of his most efficient games of the season. Harris, who had struggled in the second half against Georgia Tech, was 7 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 4 from downtown. IMO, Harris is really making a good case for the All-ACC First Team. The junior guard is the only player in the league to be ranked in the top 10 in field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage and free-throw percentage. Of course, we all know what a sham the voting for the All-ACC teams are (see last season’s snub of Mike Scott for Player of the Year), so I wouldn’t hold your breath Wahoo fans.
-- After shooting just 3 of 14 in his previous two games, freshman Evan Nolte seemed to break out of his slump. Coming off the bench, Nolte was 3 of 4 from the field (all 3-pointers) and finished with nine points. He also had five rebounds, two assists and two blocks before fouling out. Nolte was very solid on the defensive end.
-- Freshman Taylor Barnette has really rewarded Bennett for the confidence he has showed in him. After drilling that 3-pointer toward the end of the first half at Georgia Tech, Barnette followed by making 3 of 4 3-pointers and finishing with a career-high nine points against Clemson. I think we can expect Barnette to keep getting playing time as long as he keeps this kind of shooting up. I think Barnette is playing a role that is better suited for him right now. Early in the season, the shorthanded Hoos were asking Barnette to play point guard, not really his natural position. Now Barnette is just coming off the bench and looking for his shot, which it seems he’s much more comfortable doing.
“The Not So Nice”
-- Hard to complain about too much after a 37-point win. The big question after this game is how long Virginia will be without freshman Mike Tobey. Before the game, UVa announced that the center would be “out indefinitely” with mononucleosis. That certainly doesn’t sound like Tobey will be available anytime soon -- especially not for Sunday’s game at Maryland and 7-foot-1 Terrapin Center Alex Len. But Virginia could have forward Darion Atkins back in the fold, which would be a huge help. After Thursday’s game, Bennett said Atkins would test his injured right shin again soon.