Virginia defense smothers Tennessee in 46-38 victory

Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

In an important out-of-conference matchup, the Cavaliers continued their winning ways against the University of Tennessee at John Paul Jones Arena.

It wasn't pretty, but the Hoos keep winning. Defeating the Volunteers 46-38, Virginia is on a six-game winning streak with easier sailing ahead. The Hoos took a 4-2 lead and never looked back, stifling the Tennessee offense, which has been held to under 40 points in two straight losses. Though the Cavaliers have had better days, their "B" offensive game was enough to defeat a quality opponent at home and improve to 7-2. With the loss, UT falls to 4-3 on the year, their other defeats at the hands of Oklahoma State and Georgetown.

It wasn't all good news for the Hoos; with 13 minutes to play, Jontel Evans limped into the locker room. He came back out to the bench toward the end of the game, but Tony Bennett was told he was unavailable. Evans tweaked the same foot that he had just completed rehabbing, and x-rays are pending. Whitey Reid tweeted after the game that, according to Akil Mitchell, Jontel was upset when he came into the locker room, though he did not have info as to the severity of the injury.

The win came in a game that the Cavaliers had to have; after an early-season loss to Delaware kept UVA out of the late rounds of the Preseason NIT and away from chances for marquee out-of-conference wins, the Hoos had to make the best of their limited opportunities. The schedule presented two such chances, games against Wisconsin and Tennessee, and the Hoos came away with big wins in both.

The Cavaliers turned in yet another sparkling defensive effort, particularly early in the game, holding Tennessee to 6 points in the first 14:51. Volunteer star Jarnell Stokes was held to just 5 points, as Darion Atkins, with help from double-teams, clamped down on the interior. Atkins finished with 3 of the team's 8 blocks. Tennessee fared no better further from the basket, shooting 3 of 19 from behind the arc, and their 12 turnovers (on 21% of possessions) didn't help matters either.

The efficiency of Joe Harris and the strength of the continually improving two-headed monster of Mitchell and Atkins produced just enough offense for the Hoos in a night where both teams struggled to score. Harris scored 13 points on 6 of 11 shooting and Mitchell added another 13, going 6 of 13 from the field. Atkins continues to show the "soft touch" that Tony Bennett raves about, adding 8.

Besides the aforementioned 3 Hoos, only Jontel Evans and Mike Tobey made shots from the floor, finishing with 4 and 2 points, respectively. Jontel's baskets were particularly important, as he made consecutive layups after Tennessee went on a 7-0 run to pull with in 4 points at 25-21.

Virginia's offensive struggles could mainly be traced back to a similarly stingy Tennessee defense, which posed a tough matchup for the Hoos. Opponents have shot just 24.7% from behind the arc against the Vols, who are also 11th in the nation at limiting 3-point attempts. They showed this strength off in Charlottesville, as Joe Harris made UVA's only three-pointer in the team's 8 attempts. Just 15% of UVA's shot attempts were three-pointers, compared to 27.4% the rest of the season; interestingly, Virginia is 11th in the ACC in that stat, a far cry from the offensive focus in recent years.

Earlier this week, WahooMetrics posted about the importance of efficiently distributing usage of possessions. One of the main takeaways was that, considering his offensive efficiency, Mike Tobey is using too many shots. Three misses on deep jumpers furthered this theory. Though Tobey's time will surely come (he should be an offensive force as an upperclassman), he still has to recognize what his role in the offense is as well as learn his responsibilities and emphases on defense.

The Volunteers threatened late, cutting the lead to 42-38 with 39 seconds to play, but Teven Jones made two free-throws to ice the game. Jones continues to admirably spell Jontel Evans by limiting mistakes on offense and mimicking his tough on-ball defense. With luck, he'll continue to excel but in a backup role, as we continue to wait on news about Evans's foot.

Looking ahead, UVA finishes the out-of-conference section of their schedule against lesser competition. Mississippi Valley State, Morgan State, Old Dominion, and Wofford are a collective 7-19, and none are ranked better than 200th in the nation by KenPom. The Hoos have a break for final exams after the Mississippi Valley State matchup this Saturday, at 4PM on ESPN3, then will have 3 chances to tune-up for a home showdown against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

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