Top seed UVA had been in this position before. As a top seed in 2014, the Cavs trailed #16 seed Coastal Carolina by 10 points in the first half and had to rally to win.
As a two seed in 2015, Virginia couldn’t shake #15 seed Belmont until late.
So when you looked up at the scoreboard Thursday and saw #16 seed Hampton down just two, yeah, seen that before.
The Cavs closed out the half on a 20-3 run to go into the break up 19 en route to an easy 81-45 win. What made this one different: experience.
“I think there were a lot of nerves coming to this game, being the first game of the tournament,” said senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who had a quiet game, scoring 11 on 4-of-9 shooting with four assists in 28 minutes. “So we just had to get adjusted on both ends, and, you know, start establishing ourselves inside, and I think (Anthony Gill) was able to finish a couple for us early, and that got us going, got us to a good start.”
Virginia made it a point to get Gill involved early, and he made the game plan pan out, scoring a game-high 19 on 8-of-13 shooting.
Gill’s production inside opened things up for the perimeter, and the ‘Hoos hit 12-of-25 from three-point range on the afternoon.
Being patient, focusing on doing the little things, getting the ball into the paint, playing defense – those are the marks of a team that has been in this situation before.
“It started with our defense, definitely,” said point guard London Perrantes, who had 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three-point range to go with four assists in 30 minutes. “We started to buckle down defensively, started playing with more energy, and A.G. started making some layups and opened it up for some threes and some run-outs, but it all started with our defense.”
That 20-3 run keyed by the veterans broke the game open in the final 5:27 of the first half. A Brogdon three got the run going. Then Brogdon fed sophomore Isaiah Wilkins for a dunk before another three from Brogdon.
Perrantes hit back-to-back threes, then Evan Nolte connected from behind the arc.
A traditional and-one three-point play from Gill closed out the run.
It was never closer from that point on.
“To be able to have a little separation like that and have some more comfort certainly was different than last years,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Two years ago here, we were fortunate to win against a really good Coastal Carolina team. Played Belmont last year. So much of it is matchups, it really is. We had the size difference and experience. I’ll take this feeling over the other two you mentioned for sure.”
– Story by Chris Graham