In outlining what he hoped his team would play like when he came to Virginia, coach Tony Bennett talked of playing hard, scrappy defense, rebounding the ball and taking good shots that were the product of a mostly patient offense. Now, the first-year coach can just show a tape of the Cavaliers' 82-75 victory against No. 18 Georgia Tech on Wednesday night, a game when it all seemed to come together.
"You've got to win the hustle game, and we did that, got a good lift from our bench, took care of the ball and made our free throws,'' Bennett said. "Those are good things.''
Sylven Landesberg led the team with 22 points (he has scored in double figures every game this season) and Virginia used a 16-4 run late in the second half to take command. They also held Georgia Tech to 6-for-17 shooting in the final 9 1/2 minutes after the Yellow Jackets hurt them by making 27 of their first 47 attempts from the field.
The Cavaliers finished 23 for 26 from the free throw line, including making 14 of 15 over the final 8 1/2 minutes, and even turned the lone miss down the stretch into a big boost.
The miss came by Jerome Meyinsse on the front end of a one-and-one, after Meyinsse grabbed a key rebound after a miss, allowing the Cavaliers to run down the clock. When Meyinsse missed, Landesberg came away with the rebound, and Sammy Zeglinski hit a contested 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, giving Virginia a 72-63 lead with 2:08 to play.
"That really put us in a bad spot,'' Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, finished just 3-for-11 from the foul line.
Virginia (10-4, 2-0 ACC) won its sixth straight game, its longest winning streak since it won seven in a row in the 2006-07 season, and opened ACC play 2-0 for the first time since 1994-95, when the Cavaliers won their first four conference games. Remember that Virginia has only won 3 of its past 15 conference openers.
"It just seems like to me this year everybody's a lot more confident,'' said Mustapha Farrakhan, who finished with 15 points and a career high four assists and three steals. "We're going in there and playing with a lot of confidence out there, relying on one another. It's great.''
Georgia Tech (12-4, 1-2), coming off a victory against Duke, shot 51.6 percent from the field, but fizzled once Virginia made it's run, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
"Those last eight or 10 minutes, we just didn't finish the game out strong,'' Hewitt said.
Mike Scott added 12 points and Zeglinski had 10 for the Cavaliers.
Zachery Peacock led Georgia Tech with 19 points and Iman Shumpert had 15.
Virginia trailed 55-51 until Zeglinski hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, only the third of the game for the Cavaliers. It sparked the big run that gave the home team a 67-59 lead, the biggest of the game for either team, and whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
Georgia Tech scored on its next two possessions, both times on turnaround jumpers by Gani Lawal, but Landesberg hit two free throws in between. After Virginia had the long possession that ended with Zeglinski's big 3-pointer, all it had to do was make its free throws.
Neither team led by more than six in the first half, which ended with the Yellow Jackets scoring nine of the last 12 points to lead 39-38.
Don't look now, but Virginia is 2-0 against ranked opponents this season. A win on Saturday against Miami will send a big statement across the ACC, whose media picked the Cavaliers to finish 11th in the conference preseason. Tipoff is at 8:00 p.m. on ESPNU.
Adapted from VirginiaSports.com