Tony Bennett showed us just what Bennett ball is all about as Virginia routed Rider on Thursday night, 79-46, in the Cancun Challenge. This comes as a relief to Wahoo Nation (read: me), who saw the Cavs fall 49-66 to lowly South Florida earlier this week.
I won't lie. I was too frustrated earlier this week to make a decent post without expletives. The thing is, I don't even know to whom the expletives would have been directed. I wasn't mad at the coach. I was frustrated with the players for imperfect execution, but I wouldn't say I was mad. I felt the refs were making bad calls, but it seems a little early in the season to be blaming everything on the refs. After all, USF is no Duke. So really I was mad at karma. How could we have had such a tough football season and be rewarded with a loss to USF? Unknown.
And so that's why there was no game recap on USF. I'll try to keep my emotions in check next time. In any event, Mike Scott led the Cavaliers with 17 points and 9 rebounds Thursday night. Sammy Zeglinski and Jeff Jones each made offensive contributions of 12 and 11 points respectively. ACC Rookie of the Year Sylven Landesberg had 10 points of his own. Coming off the bench with a tremendous uplifting effect was Will Sherrill, who came in after Meyinsse got in a little bit of foul trouble, was able to hit the boards 6 times, as the second-leading rebounder of the night.
This was the word I had heard coming from the closed scrimmages. Sherrill, as my source told me, "is not just a scrub this year." We are going to see more of him as he takes a more active role on the team. Bennett agrees. "He can shoot the ball and he is really a very good role player. He will give of himself, screen to get people open, play off the screens. He seems to be a pretty heavy player and he did what was asked of him tonight"
Virginia shot 51.8% (29-56) from the field, 43.8% (7-16) from beyond the arc. The 'Hoos outrebounded Rider 42-27.
One noticeable difference Thursday night as compared to the first two matchups was the lineup. Bennett had been opting for a smaller lineup, with Zeglinski, Landesberg, Mustapha Farrakhan, and Jeff Jones in, and Mike Scott the only big man underneath. Thursday's lineup saw Jerome Meyinsse come in for Jones.
"I think Jerome did a heck of a job defensively tonight on the interior," Bennett said. "The reason I went with two bigs is I thought we were 17 of 52 against South Florida and I thought if we're not going to make a lot of shots, there is a chance to maybe get some offensive rebounds and maybe get some points that way."
Looks like it worked, coach. But even upon seeing the lineup change, no one expected such the response. After all, this was the same Rider team who had just upset No. 18 Mississippi State just a week before. This was the same Rider team that had three guys averaging 17.5 points per game. This was not just some cupcake team.
Zeglinski, who apparently found tonight to be a piece of cake indeed, was pleasantly surprised.
"I wasn't expecting it to be this lopsided to be honest," he said. "I thought we were going to have to fight because they have a lot of good shooters." Mentally, he continued, "but as it turns out, we didn't have to fight. We barely had to lift a finger, as we saw them crumble before us."
Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey had this to say on what went wrong. "You look at it now and you realized that maybe your kids were a little tight tonight because I think we came down here expecting to win," he said. "I think that's a good thing, but I also think we felt pressure to win the game as well. We were a lot more loose on Friday night at Mississippi State and then all of a sudden you win that game and you win the next and you're getting votes in the AP poll and everybody's talking about how good you are and then all of the sudden the pressure mounts and you lay an egg. Virginia made us pay for that."
His player, junior Mike Ringgold, was more succinct.
"We just missed shots."
Virginia plays Oral State this Saturday before turning to what could be the defining stretch of their out of conference schedule. They'll face Stanford, followed by either Kentucky or Cleveland State, and then Penn State, in the ACC-Big Ten [not-much-of-a-]Challenge.
Virginia will need all the help they can get in the coming weeks, which is why Coach Bennett breathed a sigh a relief at the fact that UVA big man Assane Sene comes back next week after a three game hiatus.