MADISON, Wisc. — “Bub” is back.
Yes, nearly forgotten in Virginia’s thrilling win at Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night was the return of Jontel Evans.
UVa’s senior captain made his long-awaited return to the court. Evans’ final stat line: no points, no assists, one turnover and four rebounds in 16 minutes.
After the game, Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Evans, who had played just three minutes all season prior to Wednesday, was “rusty.”
“I think his best basketball is in front of him,” Bennett said. “That’s his first game and in a pretty hostile environment...
“We’ll keep working with him and he’ll get more minutes.”
Virginia was able to scrape by without contributions from Evans due to another solid, if not spectacular, outing from Teven Jones. The redshirt freshman manned most of the minutes at the point, including the key ones in crunch time.
Jones had a nice floater in the lane during Virginia’s big 15-4 second-half run and a key block of a Traevon Jackson shot when the Wahoos were clinging to a five-point lead with 1:12 left in the game.
“I thought Teven, in stretches, did a good job,” Bennett said. “It’s nice to have two guys who can always put pressure on the ball. That’s important for our defense.”
Cleaning the glass
Virginia’s strong rebounding was a key to the win. UVa won the battle of the boards, 36-25. After giving up a whopping 21 offensive rebounds in its win over North Texas last week, the Wahoos surrendered just seven to the Badgers.
“That was an emphasis of ours — to check and hold them if they were [crashing the boards],” Bennett said, “or otherwise gang rebound with all five guys.”
It’s the name of a popular watering hole across the street from the Kohl Center in Madison, but it could also be the best way to describe the hustle plays that Virginia made throughout the game.
“There were so many opportunities where there were loose balls and it seemed like every time we were close to getting a big stop, the ball would bounce around and end up in their hands,” said Wisconsin senior Jared Berggren. “Those were just toughness plays that we didn’t make.”
And Virginia did.
Akil Mitchell is definitely more worthy of the nickname than the character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie “Along Came Polly.”
Mitchell was 5 of 6 from the foul line, including 3 of 4 in the final 33 seconds to seal the win. Not bad for a guy who came into the season as a career 51-percent free-throw shooter.
“He’s worked really hard,” Bennett said, “and the fact that he had made a couple [earlier in the game] helped.”
As you would expect, many of the questions that Bennett fielded in his post-game interviews pertained to his father, Dick, the former coach of Wisconsin who still resides in the state.
“My dad has shaped my career, there’s no question about it,” said Bennett, who served under his dad at both Wisconsin and Washington State. “I’ve watched him and have been so proud of his accomplishments. To be able to come in and be able to put good quality basketball on the floor here, I know that would have meant a lot.”
The elder Bennett met with Virginia players at a shoot-around on Tuesday, but didn’t attend the game because he didn’t want to be a distraction. He’s also been known to get a little too excited when he watches his son’s games.
“Part of me wishes he would have been able to come [to the game], but it’s probably better this way. Who knows what he would have done?” Bennett joked. “But there are some great memories here with the players that I got to know and the times with my dad.”