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#2 Virginia defeats #15 Belmont 79-67 to advance to Round of 32

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It's safe to breathe, Wahoo fans!

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers pulled away late from a feisty Belmont squad to kick off their NCAA Tournament run with a 79-67 win.  Despite a late scare, the Hoos stayed steady down the stretch to avoid the upset.  With the win, Virginia improves to 30-3 on the season, and joins Duke and UNC as one of the only ACC squads to win 30 or more games in back-to-back seasons.

GAME STATS:

Virginia

Belmont
Points Per Possession 1.25 1.02
Effective FG% 50.9% 54.4%
Offensive Rebound % 32.4% 20.0%
Turnover % 11.1% 18.3%
FTA/FGA 43.9 10.5

After a hot Belmont start, which saw the Bruins up 18-12 six minutes in (yes, they were on track for 120 points at that point of the game), the Hoos used an 18-2 run to open up a lead that stretched to as many as 11 points before halftime.

Even after the break, the Hoos continued to pound away, and led 51-37 before what we all feared came to fruition: Belmont got hot, and suddenly nothing could go right, as Belmont drilled 3s while UVA suddenly struggled to score, and dealt with some bizarre officiating.  Craig Bradshaw finished with 25 points, shot 5-9 on 3s (including a devastating bank-shot), and trash-talked after each one. He didn't make many friends, but he ignited his team during Belmont's run to cut the lead to 2 points with 4:36 to play.

A key London Perrantes jumper keyed a steadier finish for the Hoos, who scored the next 9 points to effectively put the game out of reach.

From the moment this matchup was announced, we knew that this wasn't an ideal one for UVA's Packline defense. Belmont does one thing very well - shoot the basketball, especially from behind the arc.  That's one thing that really neutralizes that Packline, and it worked well for the Bruins in Charlotte.

Not only did Belmont hit 3s - they actually shot a rather pedestrian 8-24 from behind the arc on the game; but they got UVA's defense out of its comfort zone, and used an array of cuts and screens to get open shots under the basket.  Belmont shoots a lot of three-pointers...but they are also 4th in the nation in 2PT%, and UVA fans learned why. Despite their lack of size, the Bruins made 59% fof their 2s on the game, finishing at 1.02 PPP.

Why all the back and forth runs? Well, that's what happens when you play a team that shoots 25 threes:

Offensively, it's tough to be disappointed in UVA's 1.25 PPP.  However, the team's interior size advantage probably didn't have the effect that it should've.  Anthony Gill did score 16, including 8-11 free-throw shooting (atta' boy!), but the team settled for a few too many long twos, which probably allowed Belmont to climb back into the game.

Malcolm Brogdon picked up right where he left off against UNC, scoring 22 points (16 in the first half), as he made 4 of his 9 threes but just 2 of 8 twos.  Darion Atkins added 10 more, and London Perrantes had 9.  Mike Tobey finished with just 2 points; part of that was matchups, and part was that he really struggled in his limited playing time.

For those on Justin Anderson watch: He looked leaps and bounds better than the limited Anderson from the ACC Tourney. He finished with 15 points, drilled an early three, had a few nice moves at the rim, and chased down a Belmont player coast-to-coast for a block. That's the guy that Virginia needs if they want a deep tournament run.

And best of all: the team turned it over on just 11% of possessions (7 on the game, and 2 were...questionable charge calls).  After being rather care-free with the basketball late in the regular season, UVA must return to it's low-turnover roots.

Next up: a rematch Sunday against Michigan State, who took care of Georgia 70-63 . That'll be a pretty big game. More to come here at Streaking the Lawn.