Virginia kicked off 2011 the right way - beating a team it should have. Coming off a pair of losses which really should have been wins, the Cavaliers regained their composure with a 64-50 victory over the LSU Tigers.
Freshman guard Jontel Evans was tasked with guarding the Tigers' leading scorer, Andre Stringer, who averaged 14.4 points per game, as a freshman no less. Evans' vastly improved defense kept Stringer scoreless until the final 2:38 of the game. Stringer finished the game with six points.
"Defensively, Jontel Evans was terrific guarding Stringer," Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said after the game. "Jontel was the difference maker defensively and then offensively, he got to the lane."
Tonight's 64 points was the most the Cavaliers have scored in seven games - since against No. 13 Minnesota in November.A lack of an efficient offense has been a recurring theme against Virginia, particularly over the prior three games, over which the team has struggled shooting 32.5% from the floor, and 18.2% from 3-point range. Both stats were improved tonight to a respectable, though still not ACC-caliber, 40.4% and 31.6%, respectively.
Also helping was 24 points coming from the Virginia bench. For the first time since the Minnesota game, senior guard and tri-captain Mustapha Farrakhan did not get the starting nod, but finished the night with 11 points over 25 minutes. Freshman Akil Mitchell also contributed a career-high nine points off the bench, two of which came off a breakaway play that many freshmen would have dunked, but Mitchell eased off for the guaranteed two instead.
Also of note is that in five of the last seven games, Virginia has five or more blocks, including six against the Tigers. This without a strong inside presence for the Cavaliers, something that has been an issue for Virginia since the Travis Watson era. Freshmen Joe Harris and Will Regan each posted career-high two blocks.
Freshman guard and ACC Rookie of the Week KT Harrell led the Cavaliers with 15 points. All of Virginia's points came from only seven players, with six of the seven posting at least eight points. Assane Sene led the boards with six rebounds, followed by five a piece from Sherrill and Harris.
Farrakhan saw his career-long 24 consecutive free throws made streak end on a free throw coming off an LSU technical foul.
"I hope this win helps and we'll just keep preparing," Bennett said. "I always say ‘don't get too high and don't get too low.' We have to keep plugging and getting ready for everyone we play."
The Cavaliers will rest a day before hosting Howard on Tuesday in their final non-conference game of the season. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.