Virginia advances in NIT with 68-50 win over St. John’s

uva-logo-new2A 20-3 first-half run got a sluggish Virginia team off the schneid, and the Cavs rolled to a 68-50 win over St. John’s in the second round of the NIT on Sunday.

The win puts UVa. (23-11) into the NIT quarterfinals on Wednesday at home vs. Iowa (23-12). Tipoff at John Paul Jones Arena is set for 7 p.m.

The 11 a.m. start to the second-round game seemed to be an issue for both teams on Sunday. St. John’s led just 8-4 eight minutes into the game when UVa. coach Tony Bennett went with a freshman-dominated lineup that jumpstarted the game-turning run. A three-pointer by backup point guard Teven Jones ignited the run, which saw freshmen score 15 of the 20 points, including an eight-point flurry by Taylor Barnette that pushed the lead to 24-11 at the 5:49 mark of the first half.

“I thought the first years really gave us a lift and played very good basketball. That was pivotal in this game,” Bennett said afterward.

Virginia led 32-21 at the break and extended the margin to 17 on a Mike Tobey jumper with 7:01 to go in the game before a 9-0 St. John’s run pulled the Red Storm to within eight at 54-46 on a Phil Greene three-point play at the 4:27 mark.

The ‘Hoos responded with a Joe Harris layup and a pair of free throws by Justin Anderson that pushed the lead back out to 12, and St. John’s would only pull within double digits once the rest of the way.

“They’re an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, who happen to be playing in the NIT. I think that’s what we saw, an NCAA-caliber team playing on their home floor. Tip my cap to Coach Bennett and his team for sticking with it and playing a cohesive game of basketball,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said.

Anderson led Virginia with 18 points. Barnett added 13 and Tobey 10. Akil Mitchell had 11 points and nine rebounds. First-team All-ACC guard Joe Harris continued his late-season slump, scoring just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from the line.

Greene led St. John’s (17-16) with 18 points.

The Red Storm shot 33.9 percent from the field (21-of-62) and made just two of their 16 three-point attempts. The Cavaliers shot 54.5 percent from the field (24-of-44) and was 5-for-15 from three-point range.

The third-round matchup should be interesting. Both Virginia and Iowa were NCAA Tournament bubble teams late in the season, and both have the carrot in front of them of playing in Madison Square Garden with a win Wednesday night.

“I am absolutely excited to have another opportunity to keep playing,” Mitchell said after the game. “It’s disappointing not to be in the NCAA Tournament, but this is a great opportunity to continue playing the game that I love. It’s a good experience.”

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