For the third straight year, Virginia has opened up conference play with a road victory. This year's what just a bit sweeter, as the Cavaliers held on to what was at one point a 16-point lead to beat the Hokies 57-54 at Cassell Coliseum. It was Virginia's first win at the Cassell since 2006.
"It was a hard fought game for us," head coach Tony Bennett said. "I challenged our guys before the game, I said ‘this is your sixth game in a row away from home, show me that you've learned.' Because we had some painful experiences, had some good ones and I said ‘now you're in a tough setting against a rival with veteran players who are experienced. They're going to come out hungry because of their last game. So show me that you've learned.'"
Senior forward Mike Scott led the charge for the Cavaliers, earning 21 points and 13 rebounds over 38 points. This was his fourth consecutive double-double, the first Cavalier to do so since Travis Watson in 2002. The first field goal made by either team came from Scott, who drained a three that set the tone for the rest of the night. The Hokies never managed to gain the lead, though coming within two in the final 20 seconds of the game.With the senior captain Will Sherrill out indefinitely due to a fractured fibula, freshman Akil Mitchel saw his playing time go up. In 14 minutes, Mitchell contributed 2 points and 1 rebound, but committed 2 fouls and 2 turnovers.
Senior Mustapha Farrakhan had another big night for the Cavaliers, and while he wasn't shooting lights out like he did against Minnesota, where he went 4-5 from behind the arc, he did run the length of the court to slam the ball in. Later in the game, he came up with a big block when he came from behind Terrell Bell in a block that silenced the Hokies fan base.
"I knew they were getting out of transition and iIjust wanted to make an aggressive play at the rim," Farrakhan said to a reporter following the game. "I knew I could jump a little bit, so I just wanted to make a good play at the basket."
Farrakhan led the team tonight in assists (5), steals (2) and blocks (2).
Looking at the box score, junior center Assane Sene only contributed four points and 3 rebounds, but you can't discount his efforts on the night. His four points came off two buckets within the final four minutes of the game. The first came at 3:48 when Virginia's lead was cut to 3, and the second came at the 1:18 mark when Virginia was up by only two.
Virginia shot only 63.6% from the free throw line tonight. While not a terrible number, at least two of the misses came during the crucial final ten seconds, with only a three-point cushion. Scott and freshman Joe Harris each missed the critical front end of a 1-and-1.
Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski made his season debut after missing the first seven games due to knee and hip surgeries before the season. Coach Bennett said that he wasn't planning on playing Zeglinski until after the Radford game in order to give him some extra time to heal, but he was cleared by the doctors to play for no more than 20 minutes tonight. Bennett said that after hearing this, he intended to play Zeglinski for "five to ten minutes," but "the play went on so long he couldn't get out."
"At least we were under what the doctor's orders were, so I guess I'm o.k. that way. He steadied us and in a good setting away from home that's a great place to get your sea legs I guess."
With Zeglinski, back, the Cavaliers will need to figure out the best rotation. Virginia has an 8-game home stand coming up, beginning with Radford this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.