Dominant defense and excellent efforts from its tallest and smallest players fueled No. 11 Virginia’s season-opening victory at Syracuse.
When the defending national champs host James Madison (1-0) in Sunday night’s home opener in Charlottesville, Va., the Cavaliers (1-0) will focus on better ball security and perimeter shooting.
Virginia shot 16 percent from 3-point range and committed 16 turnovers in Wednesday’s 48-34 win against the Orange. Quite a difference from last season, when the Cavaliers set a school record with 18 3-pointers at Syracuse and averaged an NCAA Division I-low 9.0 turnovers per game.
“I see that, and that has to be worked on and improved, but because of our ability to defend and rebound, that’s what won us the game,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose team outrebounded the Orange 47-28 and held them to 23.6-percent shooting (13 of 55).
The Cavaliers got 11 points and 12 rebounds from 7-foot-1 junior Jay Huff and 10 points and 11 boards and seven assists from 5-9 sophomore Kihei Clark. Huff played 29 minutes off the bench and was in the starting lineup to begin the second half, while Clark played all 40 minutes.
“What? Eleven (rebounds)? Wow. I’m impressed,” senior Mamadi Diakite, who led Virginia with 12 points, told the Daily Progress. “I didn’t expect that of the little dude.”
James Madison’s Matt Lewis isn’t exactly a little dude at 6-5, but the junior guard grabbed 13 rebounds to go along with 22 points in a 79-74 win against Charlotte on Wednesday. Sophomore guard Deshon Parker added 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the short-handed Dukes.
James Madison junior forward Dwight Wilson, who averaged 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, missed the opener with a right high-ankle sprain and is questionable for Sunday.
“I knew I had to come in and chip in with Dwight being out because we were kind of undersized,” Lewis told the Daily News Record. “But I didn’t even know I had 13 rebounds until after the game. I just attacked the boards and tried to get any rebound I could.”
Junior guard Darius Banks missed most of the second half with foul trouble, but the team rallied back from an early 12-point deficit.
“I’m really pleased with my guys and how they responded against a lot of adversity,” Dukes coach Louis Rowe told the Daily News Record. “It was just a matter of executing, and I really liked the way they just got their legs under them and turned things around.”
James Madison can’t afford to fall behind against their in-state neighbors. Virginia is 10-0 in home openers under Bennett and 10-0 all-time against the Dukes, whose campus is about 60 miles away in Harrisonburg.
Virginia lost top 3-point shooters Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, both first-round picks in June’s NBA Draft, and struggled with this season’s deeper 3-point line at Syracuse. Clark was 2 of 8 and the rest of the team was 2 of 17. The Cavaliers sank at least five treys in 34 of their 38 games last season.
–Field Level Media