If there's any confusion or chaos in Tony Bennett's ranks right now, it didn't show last night, as the Cavaliers took care of business against Maryland-Eastern Shore (3-10). Following the 69-42 display, Virginia is 11-1 for the first time since the 2000-2001 basketball season, which ultimately led to an NCAA Tournament berth as a fifth seed. The Hoos are also on a nine-game win streak, their longest since 2001-2002, when they were ranked No. 4 in the country (and subsequently failed to make the Tournament).
Senior Mike Scott once again led Virginia in scoring, with 17 points on the night. But the Hoos also received a lot of help coming off the bench, as freshman Darion Atkins had a career high 13 points and sophomore Akil Mitchell tied his career high of nine points.
Shortly after KT Harrell announced that he would be transferring, Bennett had contacted Paul Jesperson, the former Wisconsin Associated Press and Gatorade Player of the Year who had originally been redshirted for the season. Without Harrell, though, Bennett lacked the depth he wanted in his guard rotation, so he called Jesperson over the Christmas weekend and discussed the possibility of lifting the redshirt this season. After spending the next few days mulling it over, Jesperson took the deal, and played his first college minutes Tuesday night.
The 6'6 guard played 15 minutes, shooting 2-6 for five points. The first bucket of his career was a pretty looking three, with 10 minutes to go in the game.
While Jesperson did nothing to truly impress the crowd, the good -- and more important -- news is that he also didn't do anything to raise concerns going forward in the season. Harrell's playing time had diminished, and that's what Jesperson's been called up to replace. With this kind of performance, he'll be a decent guy off the bench that Bennett can rely on when the team is in foul trouble, and that's really all we can expect for a true freshman originally set to redshirt the season.
Virginia has two more "tune-up" games before they open up ACC play against Miami -- first against a struggling Towson, and then against another strong defensive team in LSU, who recently upset No. 10 Marquette and is 9-3 on the season.