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Cavaliers’ basketball season stumbles on
UVa coach Tony Bennett said being passed over for the NCAA tournament was bothering his team.
Virginia guard Jontel Evans (1) and Norfolk State guard Malcolm Hawkins struggle for a loose ball during the first half of a first-round NIT college basketball game in Charlottesville.
Norfolk State defenders Pendarvis Williams (left) and Jamel Fuentes pressure Virginia guard Joe Harris.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Virginia men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett was unable to wave a magic wand over his players and get them to ignore their rejection by the NCAA Basketball Tournament Committee.
Just over 48 hours after learning they had not made the NCAA field, the Cavaliers struggled Tuesday night before pulling away from Norfolk State, 67-56, in the National Invitation Tournament.
“I feel we came out with a little bit of a hangover,” said a slow-starting Akil Mitchell, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, marking his 12th double-double of the season.
“We were upset we didn’t make it into the NCAA tournament and I think we sort of overlooked this team.”
The Cavaliers had 11 turnovers in the first half and finished with 17, their second-highest total of the season. They also made 12 of their first 26 free throws before finishing 22 of 37.
Mitchell, a third-team All-ACC selection, missed all three of his free throws in the first half and had four turnovers. He finished with five turnovers after not registering more than two in a game since January.
“My goodness, I don’t know when I’ve had a stretch like that,” Mitchell said. “I just felt terrible the first half. I felt sluggish. The game was moving fast and I just couldn’t get going.”
The turning point for Mitchell might have come with 6:54 remaining in the game, when UVa point guard Jontel Evans was knocked to the floor after a driving layup.
With Evans unable to shoot the free throw, Norfolk State was given its choice of UVa players to take the resulting free throws.
The Spartans picked Mitchell, who flashed a broad smile when he swished the free throws and finished with seven points the rest of the way, including a pair of dunks.
UVa, which had led by as few as three points (47-44) inside the final six minutes, scored 17 points in the final 3:36 as it set the stage for an NIT second-round game either Sunday or Monday night against St. John’s (17-15) at John Paul Jones Arena.
It won’t be the first NIT meeting between the Cavaliers and Red Storm, who defeated Virginia 73-63 in a 2003 second-round game in Jamaica, N.Y.
St. John’s had lost seven of its previous eight games before outlasting St. Joseph’s 69-67 on Thursday night in Philadelphia.
The Cavaliers might not have been moving on if not for the contributions of its five freshmen, who combined for 39 points. Leading the way was 6-foot-6 Justin Anderson with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes.
Evan Nolte and Teven Jones each had seven points, the high for Jones since Nov. 20.
Anderson was terrific down the stretch, scoring eight points in the final 3:38, including all six of his free-throw attempts.
“He was clutch,” Mitchell said. “He stepped up and was probably our most efficient player. He’s really effective at breaking the press because he’s a great passer.”
Evans said of Anderson: “He tends to get silly and get into the crowd. Even though he’s making plays, you’ve got to keep Justin focused.
“There was one time where he was being hyped for the crowd, which coach Bennett doesn’t like, so I had to run over there and tell him ‘C’mon man.’ Other than that, I’m real proud of him.”
Joe Harris, who has struggled since a 36-point outburst in UVa’s upset of then-No. 3 Duke, was 4 of 7 from the field but converted only two of five free throws and is 5-for-10 from the line over the past two games and 10-for-18 over the past three.
“And their young man who shoots 47 percent, [Rashid] Gaston, steps up there and makes all six,” Bennett said. “We were obviously struggling at the line and left a lot of points out there in that department. As this thing advances, we’re going to have to cash in.”
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