#6 Virginia fine-tunes its identity in win over Vermont

uva basketballDefending national champion Virginia survived its toughest test of the young basketball season Tuesday evening, flexing its muscles in the final minutes to outlast red-hot shooter Anthony Lamb and his Vermont Catamounts 61-55.

Vermont coach John Becker said afterward that his program isn’t into moral wins, and that “losing is not acceptable, but my players did what we asked them to do.”

“Virginia made the plays down the wire, but we think we’re as good as them,” commented Becker.

Virginia fans certainly won’t argue that Lamb wasn’t on par with any Cavalier on the floor.
The returning American East Conference Player of the Year netted a career-high seven three-pointers, and scored 30 points, 25 of which came during the second half of play. Vermont rallied from a 24-18 deficit at the break to take several three-point leads in the final half.

Vermont led 49-48 with just over five minutes remaining in the game before Virginia used a 9-0 run over the next three minutes to take the lead and put the game away. Typical of the Cavaliers, they forced three consecutive Vermont turnovers to take charge of the contest.

Lamb’s second-half outburst was similar to what Purdue’s Carsen Edwards did to the Cavaliers for an entire contest (42 points) in an Elite Eight matchup in Louisville last spring. Virginia survived Edwards, but three of the players on the floor for the Cavaliers that night are now playing for pay.

Lamb’s dazzling performance actually got jumpstarted in the waning moments of the first half as the 6’6″ senior sank a long three at the buzzer to pull Vermont to within six points at the break.

Lamb then took control of the game at the very onset of second-half action, scoring 13 of the first 16 Catamounts points, including 11 straight during one stretch to give Vermont a 34-31 lead with 12 minutes remaining.

With every three, Lamb offered flashbacks of Purdue and Edwards’ outburst was certainly on everone’s mind sitting in JPJ. Even Virginia coach Tony Bennett commented on the similarity of Lamb’s performance to the Purdue game.

“We’ve seen something like that before. It’s tough to defend when that happens,” said Bennett.

At one point in the game, Lamb hit five threes in just over eight minutes of game time. Vermont coach Becker said his star was doing it on both ends of the floor.

“Our whole offense is built around him, but he’s also guarding their best offensive player on the other end of the floor as well,” boasted Becker.

While other teams in the country continue to struggle to find their identity, Virginia simply continues to fine-tune theirs. On a night when the Cavaliers ran into a one-man wrecking crew named Anthony Lamb, Virginia did what Virginia does best: found a way to win.

It’s early, but this edition of Virginia basketball might be on to something, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Story by Scott German

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