Finally, it happened.
With 3:32 left on the clock in the second half, Thomas Rogers emerged from the Virginia huddle and headed to the charity stripe to attempt two free throws following a technical called on the Liberty bench. A couple stifled cheers rustled through the crowd of close to 11,000 at John Paul Jones Arena.
Rogers let loose his shot, and the entire arena held their collective breath as the ball rattled around the rim not once, not twice, but three times before finally falling. The tally was the first career point for the fourth year walk on from Farmville, VA, who was awarded a full scholarship prior to the beginning of the 2013-2014 season.
Every remaining fan went nuts, including the rest of his teammates. Rogers missed the second free throw, but he wasn't done for the day, hitting a corner three with 2:19 remaining. That sent the bench into a frenzy, and since a picture is worth a thousand words:
Fellow walk on Rob Vozenilek (and brother of football player Alec) hit a jumper for himself at the 1:19 mark, eliciting a new round of cheers from the bench and arena.
After the first half, however, it was questionable if the walk ons would even see any time the way the game was progressing. The Hoos were nursing a six point lead over the visiting Liberty Flames (1-4), and were being out rebounded 18-14.
15 of Liberty's 18 rebounds were defensive boards, compared to Virginia's measly five offensive boards. Justin Anderson sat atop the leaderboard with 8 points in the first half, with Brogdon and Harris contributing 7 and 5, respectively.
Coach Bennett's locker room speech must have lit a fire under the Wahoos (or maybe they got a glimpse at the hustle of the little kid basketball half time game...those kids were ballin'), because the home team came out firing, using a 20-0 second half run to put the game well out of reach.
Despite going through a real dunk drought through the first few games, the Cavaliers lit up the rim with Anthony Gill, Akil Mitchell, and Mike Tobey putting on a show. Gill looked poised for a huge dunk on a fast break all alone, but the referee blew a whistle on a foul by Liberty, depriving all of us of what surely would have been Top Ten worthy.
London Perrantes continues to impress at the point guard spot, dishing out a career high six assists (he had five at Davidson) and taking phenomenal care of the ball with no turnovers in 19 minutes of playing time. Perrantes also nailed a three pointer, letting the Cavalier faithful know that he's capable of scoring. He had a beautiful alley-oop to Akil Mitchell on a play that fooled not only the Liberty defense, but the crowd as well (ok, fine...it fooled me). London appeared to look Mitchell off of the oop, then surreptitiously dished him a perfect ball.
Darion Atkins, sporting a new high-speed haircut, had a balanced performance with nine rebounds, seven points, and two assists. Joe Harris had a quietly efficient day with nine points, four rebounds, and two assists. Malcolm Brogdon looked cool, calm, and collected as he put away 12 points on 5-9 shooting (2-5 from 3).
Liberty's Davon Marshall finished with 15 points on 3-8 shooting beyond the arc, while John Caleb Sanders had the first eight points for the Flames in the second half (the last of which came with 5:59 left in the game). The Flames scored their last 15 points on Virginia's reserve squad. The Hoos led 70-38 when Rogers made his free throw.
While Justin Anderson has yet to slam a dunk home, his play never ceases to amaze. He plays every second of the game like it's a championship, and puts more effort and heart into every play than anyone I have ever seen. Anderson is a joy to watch, and it won't be long before we see more consistent performances like last year's NIT game against Iowa.
Virginia continues their season on Tuesday at home against Hampton as part of the Corpus Christi Challenge. Game starts at 7pm, and will be shown online by ESPN3.