The Virginia Cavaliers defeated the Explorers of La Salle 64-56 in the first round of the Barlcay's Center Classic in Brookyln. The win brings UVA to 6-0 on the year and sets up a Saturday matchup with Rutgers for the championship of the early-season tourney.
This was a tale of two halves for Virginia. In the first period, the Hoos continued to play absolutely stifling defense, along with smart and efficient offense, to build a 37-19 halftime lead. La Salle was stymied on each trip up and down the floor, seemingly scoring only on a few prayer jumpers. The Explorers are not a strong shooting team, and they really struggled to get anywhere near the basket against UVA's Packline D.
In the second half, it looked like the Hoos would pick up where they left off. Sure enough, with thirteen minutes to play, Malcolm Brogdon drilled a three-pointer to extend UVA's lead to twenty points at 48-28. Those last thirteen minutes featured a Virginia squad that was suddenly rattled and hung on for the win only by virtue of their gigantic cushion.
Three-pointer. Three-point play. Three-pointer. Layup. Two free throws. The Hoos managed just a Tobey free-throw during that stretch, and it was an 8 point game with 8 minutes still to play. Virginia again appeared to steady the ship, going on a 7-2 mini-run to extend the lead to 56-43, but the team lost focus again.
With four minutes remaining, London Perrantes turned the ball over, committed a foul on the other end of the floor, then gave his opponent a shove in frustration, earning a technical. That gave the Explorers 4 free-throws and possession. That CANNOT happen. The incident seemed to affect London, who struggled mightily down the stretch, committing another foul and two more bad turnovers, which allowed La Salle within 4 points with a minute to play. Thankfully, Malcolm Brogdon sank two big free-throws, followed by a Mike Tobey steal and Justin Anderson dunk that sealed the win.
In the post-game, Coach Bennett addressed the late near-collpase as an opportunity to learn. When asked how he'd keep the team from looking past Rutgers to their ensuing matchups with VCU and Maryland, he laughed: "Did you see the last five minutes?!"
The Hoos again proved that, as good as they have looked, they are plenty capable of playing bad basketball. (This is a great team...but it's not going undefeated.) That said, there were still things to like. The first twenty-seven minutes largely featured the dominant defense that had their opponents confused and demoralized. Malcolm Brogdon had a big night, scoring 20 points on 5-10 shooting, while sinking both of his three-point attempts. Anthony Gill added a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, three on offense. And some of those rebounds were ferocious.
Making 49% of twos and 43% of threes should be plenty enough to win against a solid defensive squad, which La Salle is. But that 23% turnover rate must come down (VCU is looming), and the defense has to do a better job of not fouling (.56 FTA/FGA), especially with a decent lead. The team lost its composure, but that happens sometimes. (Heck, I did too. But that's probably because I was watching the football and basketball games at the same time.) It just can't happen again.
At the end of the day, it's an 8-point win against a decent team at a neutral site. Virginia has a chance to pick up another neutral site win, and a CHAMPIONSHIP, at 9:30 PM against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are off to a shaky start this season, getting pummeled at home by GW and Saint Peters, but they notched a close victory over Vanderbilt to make the championship game. The game will be televised, once again, by NBC Sports Network.