While much of Saturday’s 20-point win over visiting Florida State was about the quality of Virginia’s defense, Wahoo fans everywhere were celebrating for offensive reasons.
Snapping a two-game ACC losing streak in which offense seemed to have been a lost basketball art, Virginia exploded for 56 points against FSU and ended a seven-game losing skid against the Seminoles dating back to 2007.
Meanwhile, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton lingered for the longest time after his press conference, shaking his head in amazement over his team’s lack of scoring. The Seminoles’ measly 36 points were the fewest ever scored in John Paul Jones Arena, and the fewest scored by a Florida State team in 33 years.
It’s been shouted far and wide about the defensive prowess of Virginia and how it is the very staple of coach Tony Bennett’s hoops philosophy. But after last week’s horrid road trip, when the Cavaliers scored 52 points and 44 points and lost both games, Virginia fans were crying for some sign of offensive life.
The fireworks started early. The Seminoles watched the 3-pointers rain down on them as Joe Harris, Paul Jesperson and Justin Anderson all struck from Bonusphere.
Virginia bolted to a 21-9 lead before the ’Noles knew was hit ‘em and by halftime, the Cavaliers had connected on 7-of-9 from beyond the arc for a 33-15 lead, the seventh time this season UVa had held an opponent to less than 20 points in a half.
The 3’s were a welcome site for Wahoo fans who had winced over their team’s laboring the score the week before. In the two road losses, UVa had hit only a combined eight 3-pointers in 28 tries.
“We did know that they are a good 3-point shooting team but we didn’t act like it,” FSU’s Hamilton said. “We’ve had a defensive system in place now for a number of years that seems to have been fairly effective against good teams, so I have to give Virginia credit because I think they were patient like they normally are and they executed well.”
Now, seven 3-pointers might not be a reason to celebrate in other basketball towns, but this particular season in Charlottesville, it’s almost an excuse to throw a parade.
For the record, Harris hit three 3’s (3-for-6), Jesperson was 2-for-2 and Anderson was 2-for-3.
Of that trio, Anderson may have been the unexpected. Of that trio, he’s the one who doesn’t have Bennett’s green light.
Bennett acknowledged that while the athletic freshman works hard on his 3-pointer every day, that Anderson needs to refine his judgment on choosing the right ones to take in games.
“It’s not a first option for his game,” Bennett said. “Only three [Cavaliers] have the green light. The others have a yellow … maybe.”
Harris, Jesperson and freshman Evan Nolte are the greenies. Anderson definitely is in the yellow category.
Still, if the rookie can continue to swish ‘em in, Bennett may have to change status for his highest-profile recruit.
“This week we talked about how we wanted to work the ball, really get it side-top-side and make the defense work, but it was more of an emphasis this week,” said Harris, who led all scorers with 17 points.
What frustrates and perhaps even mystifies UVa fans is why can’t their guys play like this every time out.
“I don’t know,” Harris said when asked to explain the contrasting offensive performances. “That’s part of sports I guess. Everybody has good stretches and bad stretches.”
Point guard Jontel Evans, who provided several of those opportunities for his shooters with his penetration, believes it is more a matter of focus. Maybe with so many freshmen playing key roles on the team, particularly in terms of scoring, that focus is truly an issue.
“It’s the mindset,” Evans said after scoring six points and dishing out seven assists (five turnovers). “We have to be focused and locked in on both ends of the floor. When we do that, we’re a tough team to beat.”
And, when they’re not, you get Clemson and Wake performances, which is about as ugly as it gets.
“When we score like that early it gives the whole team energy and confidence … it was like we couldn’t miss,” Evans said. “I’ve never seen those guys (Jesperson and Anderson) shoot like that. I mean, they’re good shooters, but tonight they were great shooters.”
Hamilton, who usually produces one of the better defensive teams in the league, said that the success of Virginia’s young shooters Saturday will likely build their confidence for future games.
Cavalier fans are keeping their fingers crossed that may be the case.