Virginia extended its winning streak to eight games, returning from an 11-day final exam break to defeat Morgan State 75-57. Despite the final score, players and coaches did not leave the court happy, as the team was sloppy throughout, showing rust and a lack of focus after the long rest period. UVA still took care of business at John Paul Jones Arena, improving to 9-2, while sending Morgan State to 3-5.
The night was encapsulated in a two-possession stretch midway through the second half, when Justin Anderson bungled a wide-open (and overly emphatic) two-handed dunk. The Hoos would quickly regain possession, only to see Joe Harris attempt a no-look pass and allow the ball to soar out-of-bounds for one of his 4 turnovers - the team finished with 16. Coach Tony Bennett called a timeout, not the only one he would expend to angrily address his team's unsound play. Another would be needed soon after, when the Bears used a 14-5 run to climb within 9 points with 6:40 remaining.
After the game, Tony Bennett explained his frustration: "I thought (our effort) was poor. I thought we were undisciplined, I thought we weren't sound and didn't respect the game." He told his team, "Don't accept in victory what you wouldn't in defeat." Essentially, though the Hoos were able to easily defeat a mid-tier MEAC squad, the same effort would lead to embarrassing results if ACC opponents were around to capitalize.
Akil Mitchell posted a double-double, scoring 15 on 5-12 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds, while Darion Atkins added 17 to lead the team. Mitchell's 7 assists left him just 3 short of posting a triple-double, as the two-headed monster in the interior prevented the outcome from coming into much doubt after a 15-0 run allowed the Hoos to pull away from what was a 21-18 deficit. Joe Harris recovered from a quiet first half, in which he sat through foul trouble, to finish with 14 points on 4 shots, and Paul Jesperson had a strong night, shooting 4 of 5 from the field to score 11.
However, it was Dewayne Jackson of Morgan State who put on a show, scoring 32 points, including 19 in the first half, a JPJ single-half record. He did so efficiently, making 11 of his 16 shots, and sinking all 7 of his free-throws. The same efficiency wasn't seen from the home team, as Virginia made just 19 for 29 of its foul shots.
The one area where Tony Bennett could appreciate an improved effort was on the boards. After getting beaten in that phase of the game by lowly Mississippi Valley State, Virginia dominated a surprisingly strong offensive rebounding team, pulling in 79% of opponent's misses, compared to 53% for the Bears.
Though the team stats didn't reflect the nature of the sloppiness of the game, it was clear that the Hoos were out of sync and didn't stick to their game plan. Virginia will have to return to playing Virginia basketball going forward. Stingy and consistant defense, valuing the basketball, and methodically working to choose the best shot have been the ingredients to past big wins, such as this season's victory at Wisconsin, and will have to be the style to produce more in the future.
The Hoos have their next chance to put together a complete game Saturday at the Governor Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond against Old Dominion. The Monarchs are 1-10, but will be gunning for a chance at a win against an in-state team on a big stage. The game will tip-off at 5:30 PM, after the conclusion of the Richmond vs. George Mason matchup, and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.